The Comforts of Berlin
by Alex Carnevale
dir. Stephen Daldry
If there was a God, then all preadolescent sexuality would occur in postwar Berlin. There is every type of Nazi woman you can think of in Berlin of this period. The women survived the war in greater numbers than did men, so the attractive German male was much coveted during this period. These women are ready and waiting for young boys.
Michael is a cloying such young boy, and he gets laid by Sam Mendes’ wife over and over again. Winslet cradles the boy’s Valkyric cock like a champ, reminding me of a young Sophia Loren if she felt the need to take Oscar-type roles. At least she’s having a shitload more fun then she was in Revolutionary Road.
Winslet is a bossy train conductor, a fertile lover, and a lover of fine literature. Michael even acts out Tintin cartoons for her. Their relationship is the love of a young penis for an older opposite, and both are featured good-naturedly, amidst a stilted, rambling and unaffecting script by David Hare.
Eventually, the relationship becomes more modern. When he’s on top of her, he’s just biding time before a semi-predictable orgasm. He reads to her, his taste is bleh bordering on contrived. Postwar Germany has so many advantages: it is so much easier to get laid when you’re in the past.
Things you can do before OR after sex in postwar Germany:
– ride bicycles
– get Scarlet fever
– drink goblets of mead
– hard sex with K. Winslet
Karl Jaspers and Homer, and all the authors of the works Michael reads to Winslet would be disgusted by The Reader. Jaspers wrote that “when language is used without true significance, it loses its purpose as a means of communication and becomes an end in itself.” He would have loathed this film, which makes sport out of genocide.
Daldry and Hare aren’t alone. The Reader is part of a growing trend of films with some small admiration for the Nazi cause. We should have hoped Graham Greene and Roald Dahl might have been the end of it. Because pinning something so large on every person is difficult, it is pinned on some small segment of the population, on a case-by-case basis. It is even sometimes the fault of the victims, if you believe the West.
There were innocent Nazis, The Reader argues. There must have been, or else what else was the Holocaust?
Of course Kate Winslet is the best Nazi. Let’s not forget her classic scene in the Ricky Gervais HBO comedy Extras:
Kate Winslet: I mean, I don’t think we really NEED another film about the Holocaust, do we? It’s like, HOW MANY HAVE THERE BEEN? We get it! It was grim! Move on! No, I’m doing it because I’ve noticed that if you do a film about the Holocaust, you’re guaranteed an Oscar. I’ve been nominated four times. Never won. The WHOLE WORLD is going, ‘Why hasn’t Winslet won one?’ That’s why I’m doing it. Schindler’s bloody List, The Pianist–Oscars comin’ outta their ass!
Ricky Gervais: Good plan.
Kate Winslet: Yeah, thanks.
Of all the proctors of genocide, Winslet’s SS guard is the kindest, choosing the weak and the sick, and then dispatching them with equal charity. Keeping the strongest of the Jews out of some twisted sense of mercy. And here are the executioners, served up by more of my people in the film’s Jewish producers, Harvey Weinstein and Bob Weinstein, those least admirable of Jews. My people have such a strange sense of humor sometimes.
Michael (later he is Ralph Fiennes) strolls through the death camps, in repose at the conduct of his female country woman. Feminizing Nazis is a constant trope of the Western approach — their extreme violence comes out of a weakness that is akin to homosexuality and thus deviance.
Michael himself has his sexual appetite ruined by these sorrows. The Nazi pedigree has corrupted, ruined him and her and their time together. There is no happiness in this place without restitution, the West says of its German friends. Once they’ve paid that penance though, it’s OK to move on. So we see the images of the camps.
Not even Pasolini’s Salo was so overtly literal. Chekhov, who is mentioned here, would have hated this maneuver, of a character walking through Auschwitz and feeling remorse. It is already everywhere, the camps. It is more evident during Kate Winslet’s nude scenes in Neustadt than it is with some actor crying into the showers of Treblinka, where women and children were gassed by his ancestors. Germany is the camps. Whatever understanding this aims towards, it is better accomplished by a museum of the dead.
“Oh yes, the law is narrow,” crows a law professor in this dreaful bore of a motion picture. It is that. Any devotion to the Nazi ethos condones such behavior as part of a larger social fabric. In doing so, the crime loses some part of its horror. But afterwards, the diminished thing is not what lacks — it is us that lacks.
Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He tumbls here.
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