Monday, January 11, 2010

"The Writer" Jose on Kate as "Hanna Schmitz"

It's "Kate Winslet Day" Pass it on.

Jose here with a second look at Kate Winslet's most under/over-rated performance.



While watching the European Film Awards last year two things struck me:

how much I'd missed the acting clips during 2009's Oscar ceremony and also how differently do Europeans perceive greatness compared to people in our hemisphere.


When they got to Best Actress (in a mouthwatering lineup that included Penélope Cruz, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Yolande Moreau, Katie Jarvis and of course Winslet) I was surprised to see that for Winslet's clip they picked my favorite scene in "The Reader".


The moment when Hanna enters a church, while on her biking holiday with Michael (David Kross) and sits on a bench while listening to a children's choir. That scene, for me, represents what made her performance so powerful. Hanna sits there, her face changes and we see her visibly moved to the point of tears. Winslet appears to be doing absolutely nothing, which might be the truth, because we realize that this isn't Winslet anymore.

The church scene embodies both aspects of Hanna and Winslet's performance. On one side the people who see her as a Nazi monster might think that she cries because she misses her youth, is envious of the little children who sing and might want to have them for lunch. Those who care to see beyond the Nazi tag, will see a woman that perhaps is watching beauty for the first time in her entire life. She has a secret-which I won't spoil for those who haven't seen it-that makes this scene all the more relevant when we discover it. Hanna is in experiencing an indescribable presence she never even imagined existed before. Can it be that through art she's experiencing God?

I found it a bit disappointing that in her lust for Oscar, Winslet reached a point where she didn't seem to care what performance she got it for and the media only concentrated on how much she wanted the damn thing. Because truth be told, in "The Reader" the actress, in all her delicately raw glory, becomes the writer (no offense to Bernhard Schlink and David Hare) of Hanna Schmitz.

I also wonder what clip of hers would Oscar have chosen.

36 comments:

Hayden said...

My guess is that they'd have used a courtroom scene.

But yeah, I mean, there's virtually nothing that could ever make me love this performance. I didn't respond to it in the first place, and her shameless Oscar baiting last year really pushed it over the edge for me. I need a good five year break from all things Kate Winslet after 2008.

The most disheartening thing about her Best Actress win is that she won for a performance that is completely uncharacteristic of her skills as an actress. Hanna is a Cate Blanchett part, one that requires the precision of someone like her or Meryl Streep, who can juggle accents, mannerisms, and the surface of the role while crafting something underneath. Kate's best roles have celebrated their free spirited will to generalize emotion, not to overthink, to act from somewhere more guttural and instinctive.

Not only did she drop the ball numerous times on the surface of her performance, but something about Hanna, unlike Clementine, or any of Winslet's best performance, felt utterly dead inside.

Hayden said...

People say The Reader showed off Winslet's range, but I think it instead showed off her limits. She's a highly impressionistic actress, and Hanna is a role that demanded a lot of precision.

mrripley said...

I always liked her chiding of the lady chatterley's lover book.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you Hayden. I think her Hanna Schmidz is more demading than her role in "Little Children", "Revolutionary Road" or "Titanic". She needs to express all feelings (anger, deception, lust) with only a look or a movement.

After I read the novel I think Kate nailed the part perfectly -in a subtle way-. That's how it should be hanna Schmidz without a doubt.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the last message; i said I disagree with you, Hayden I misunderstand your second post.

Bryan said...

Aw, but I don't want to think of Kate as greedy!

Was she really Oscar-baiting? I wouldn't characterize her Lead/Supporting back-and-forth as baiting... I think that she simply would have preferred to be nominated for her part in her husband's movie. So she/studios were trying to keep Hanna from interfering-- I can't fault her for that.

In some ways, her two movies were both quite baity, but it's hard to avoid those kinds of movies altogether, right? I guess part of why I think she deserved it is because she so justifiably could have believed that she would never win-- sure, being un-Oscared isn't the end of the world, but still. I'm sure she wanted it, just like everyone else. It's not like she accepted parts in Revolutionary Road and The Reader specifically because she had calculated that those would be her best bets to win an Oscar.

I think that Clementine has been her best role and performance so far, but I'm not sure I believe that her performance in the Reader was bad, necessarily. There were a lot of moments where she was phenomenal.

Maybe I just love her too much and too unconditionally, but I don't like to think of her as limited, either. She's done the free-spirit thing quite a few times, but hopefully she'll take a part someday that really pushes her in a new direction. I think she has it in her.

Here ends my blatantly biased defense of Kate Winslet.

mrripley said...

Do people think we'd be talking her up for The Reader this year if that film was put out in 2009 and not 2008 and Streep was the winner last year,i keep wondering, or if she'd have been nommed for rev rd and won would we be saying winner for the reader this year.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Was it really Oscar baiting, she wasn't pushing the awards. Of course I do prefer her April - one of my favourite of hers actually. That being said I don't find her performance in The Reader as bad. I understand Hayden's saying it's a Blanchett role [smart actually] but I figure if Blanchett HAD done the role we'd all be accusing her of being over the top. The Reader isn't Kate's best but the entire scene where she's on "vacation" or whatever with Kross is the best part of the film. She wants to enjoy those moments of happiness but she has a secret, so she can't.

Jose: "I found it a bit disappointing that in her lust for Oscar": A bit harsh. No?

Mark G. said...

I think they would have used the restaurant scene where Michael orders for her. I would have liked to see them use the courtroom scene but that scene gives away too much of the plot. Oscar tends to avoid spoilers in clips.

cal roth said...

That was very deserving performance, as I have said before. She was flawless.

Anonymous said...

I actually found her wanting the Oscar and not being ashamed of it very admirable and charming. That said, I sadly didn't care for her performance or the film at all. I actually found David Kross' performance better than hers and the only thing about the film that really moved me, along with Lena Olin's bit at the end.

But Best Actress was kind of pointless last year without Sally Hawkins anyway, wasn't it?

Dell said...

"The Reader"? The f-ing "Reader" is what you write about for best of Kate Winslet? The "Titanic" write-up was bad enough, but really, what's going on today? I guess "The Holiday" will be next up. Awful choices.

Ryan T. said...

Well dang with all the comments here. Thank you Jose for your thoughts on Hanna and Kate's great performance. I was very happy she won the Oscar for this.

Jose said...

Andrew: I don't find it too harsh. There was a point last year when you could swear she would confuse her speeches and thank the wrong people for the award she'd just won. And not only that plus the Vanity Fair interview, the way she made it obvious she wished she'd won for Revolutionary Road but The Reader would do, etc...
Do I think she eventually deserved to win? Absolutely. She was the best in that category.

Dell: I actually agree with Glenn that Kate was spectacular in "Titanic". If you don't enjoy our choices, what would you say is her best work?

Ryan T.: Thanks :)

joe burns said...

I disagree about all the "She's a great actress,but she won for the wrong role" thing. Yes, I would have preferred her to win for Eternal Sunshine, but I think that The Reader is one of her best performances. They'd probably show one of the court scenes. And I don't see why people think it's supporting.

Billy Held An Oscar said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Billy Held An Oscar said...

Kate's Oscar win was a case of 'careful what you wish for' ..... for me at least.

For many years I hoped and prayed that Kate would take home the Oscar. With each film release I would always think, "Maybe this is it ! This is the performance that will win her the gold'. Then it happened. She won. And I was totally disappointed. I didn't care for the performance ... hated the dress and hair .. and even thought the acceptance speech was a yawn.

Imagination so rarely transcends successfully to reality.

Rebecca said...

I interpreted that scene the same way as Jose - that it was Hanna being absolutely devastated by the beauty of the music. Thanks for the write-up, I love reading these little detailed takes on individual scenes

Matvey said...

I didn't love this performance either... I think Kidman shouldn't have dropped off the reader.. she is a much more intelectual actress, that truly understand the character's thoughts and that is what Hanna needed. Winslet excels in projectig raw emotion that's why she is so good in movies like "Eternal Sunshine.." but she isn't that good in these kind of roles..

RJ said...

Absolutely agree Billy. I saw one of Kate Winslet's perfume ads recently, and it was the first time since that Oscar win that I remembered how much I like Kate Winslet. 2008 just gave me fatigue.

NATHANIEL R said...

Hayden -- i agree that Hanna comes across as "utterly dead inside" but i would disagree with your assessment of the performance since I think any other reading of Hanna would have been missing that point.

She *IS* an empty shell. I think Winslet played her well personally. Not "Oscar win" well but whatever. Plenty of lesser performances have won the gold.

Hayden said...

Well I'm not saying that being "utterly dead inside" is really such a bad thing for the role. It's just that Winslet's typically such a lantern onscreen, you can't help but connect with the heart that radiates from her best performances. And without that to rely on, I think she falls on her weaker skills as an actress.

I just don't think it was a good fit.

Alex said...

I always thought Oscar would've used that bit when Ralph Fiennes comes to visit her in prison and she says "It doesn't matter what I think. It doesn't matter what I feel. The dead are still dead."

In considering an actor's performance, I always like to look at who else was considered for the role. Nicole Kidman actually accepted the role but had to drop out because of AUSTRALIA or something. IMDB can occasionally be inaccurate, but apparently Juliette Binoche, Marion Cotillard, and Naomi Watts were all considered.

gabrieloak said...

Though I preferred her performance in Revolutionary Road (which I think is sometimes an absolutely awful film except for Winslet), I think Kate is often wonderful as Hanna. I certainly remember several of her scenes vividly and I haven't watched the film since I saw it in the theater more than a year ago. Winslet mentioned in interviews that she found acting Hanna very hard because there was nothing she could find in herself that related to the character.

I know a lot of critics and bloggers didn't like The Reader. So I was surprised how moving I found the film, except in some of the scenes with Ralph Fiennes, who gave a very stilted performance. But David Cross was superb as the kid.

Brahm said...

Interesting comments and disagreements here. I thought Winslet was brilliant and perfectly pitched in The Reader; I had read and loved the book, and think she was well cast and delivered. The character is sad not sympathetic, and mostly dead inside, and I think she nailed it. I also thought she was great in Revolutionary Road, though that was a flashier and I think therefore and easier role.

Had not heard that Nicole Kidman was going to play this character --- so grateful that did not come to pass!

NATHANIEL R said...

Hayden... fair enough!

Brahm... ah, but Nicole is cerebral enough to have really worked wonders with it.

but as for Rev Rd i often wonder why that wasn't the one precisely because as you say "flashier"... but i guess it's because people REALLY didn't like the film and generally you need people to like the film in order to get nominated for something.

Steven said...

I honestly think this is one of Kate's best performances to date. I think she excels because it's "someone else's role," and yet she still did a brilliant job, proving the cynics wrong in a way. If anything, I think she was the best of the five nominees in her category.

I'm glad she finally won the Oscar, but in a way, I agree with the person who says the win feels a little cheated. She definitely should have won for one of her previous nominations, probably Eternal Sunshine (I wish Oscar liked that movie as much as I did). At the same time, I don't think it's an undeserved win at all. If she were nominated for both Leading for Revolutionary Road and Supporting for The Reader, I would have been rooting for her win in the supporting category because I think it's her better performance. I wish the performance were more universally loved so this empty feeling wouldn't exist when thinking back on her first Oscar win. May she have many more statuettes to come!

To this day, I can't believe David Kross hasn't gotten more attention for his performance in The Reader. What a breakout role and portrayal! The fact that Dev Patel was winning all the "breakthrough actor" awards over David Kross is beyond me (including BCFA's Best Young Actor when they were both nominated together). I hope David continues to create performances of this caliber.

~Steven

Ramification said...

This is one of my favorite Kate performances of all time. I think a lot of people think of it as a 'boring' performance since her character is very inward looking, but I found Winslet totally immersed in the role to the point where I think she disappeared in it completely

Glenn said...

If this role were performed by someone like Charlize Theron in a Hollywood actress breakout then people probably wouldn't have complained as much. If it was the same performance but done by an international actress, like Marion in Rose, that most people hadn't heard of then people probably wouldn't have complained as much.

But it was the Kate Winslet making a Holocaust movie thing that rubbed a lot people the wrong way. Not me, I think she's superb. As is the film. It and Doubt were two movies that people seemed to not like, but that I found excellent. Compelling adult dramas.

Erich Kuersten said...

DOUBT at least was a good filmed play that didn't outstay its welcome - the Reader just drags on and on. It seemed like a whole hour went by of us seeing the gray afternoon light reflected in the aging Winslet's cool steely silver eyes -- oooh look how shiny!

SPOILER ALERT: Maybe they wanted to make a movie that was somehow even more frustrating and suffocated by artsy-bourgeoisie-kowtowing reticence (i.e. the scene after scene of Ralph F. almost, but then not, telling people she can't read - like Jesus, if she's such a stubborn beeyatch let her freaking die) and then, ooh cue upbeat music montage as he reads endless books on tape and then kill me, please.

Revolutionary Road, another tale of narcissists who can almost--but not quite--but almost---but not quite--get their heads out of their asses. A real neck and neck race as to what movie takes the longest to tell the littlest

Kev said...

I'd guess that it wouldn't have mattered really to me who was in the Hanna role. The film was pretty horrible and disingenuous, and that's the director and screenwriter's fault. Give people a bit more credit than to say something as simple as, "if Charlize Theron or Nicole Kidman or Marion Cotillard were Hanna, people would have liked it more." Just inserting another actress in with everything else still as is wouldn't have necessarily made this film good or universally accepted. Do I think Kate Winslet should have won an Oscar for "The Reader"? Hell no. But what's done is done. She has her precious Oscar now. Though I don't think it's entirely fair to say that she got to a point where she didn't care which film she was winning for. You could tell she really wanted this for "Revolutionary Road". How could she not with the Leo and Sam connections? But once the cards started to fall out of favor for that film (unfairly, IMO), what else could she do but be a team player and cheer on for "The Reader" instead? I don't see that particularly as Oscar lust, and at least she was upfront in general about what she wanted after five losses. But be careful what you wish for. You get your Oscar, but it's for crap like "The Reader", and who knows when Oscar will come knocking for you again (if ever), even for roles superior to what you won for.

Belle said...

For many years I hoped and prayed that Kate would take home the Oscar. With each film release I would always think, "Maybe this is it ! This is the performance that will win her the gold'. Then it happened. She won. And I was totally disappointed. I didn't care for the performance ... hated the dress and hair .. and even thought the acceptance speech was a yawn.

Yes, Billy! I'm so glad someone mentioned not liking her look on Oscar night. I didn't like that gray/blue asymmetrical dress or her granny hair at all that night, and all of that was compounded by her win that I despised. She looked better at the Globes, SAGs, and BAFTA! That ain't right! Regardless of anything, you save your best look for the Oscars! That was all really silly and Fashion Police-y of me, but whatever, I had to get that off my chest!

Anonymous said...

The Nicole Kidman haters nearly ruined my decade... is hating Kate Winslet going to become the fad of the next one?

Virtually all of the best actors win for the wrong performances. Hell, there have been times when Kate has lost for just that reason-- someone else is getting their belated trophy. Last year, it was finally Kate's turn to be on the receiving end. Deal with it.

Bill

Glenn said...

Actually, the thing with Kate Winslet is... look over her nominations and tell me what one she would have won for? Not Eternal Sunshine with Hilary and Annette. Not for Little Children because it was tiny and HELEN MIRREN. It wasn't gonna be for Iris which sorta felt like the first Winslet default nomination. It definitely wasn't going to be for Titanic, either.

In fact, the only of her earlier nominations that I could see her winning was for Sense & Sensibility when Mira Sorvino of all people won the statue. If she had won for that people would have complained that she won for the wrong performance etc.

The Reader was the first year in which the majority of Academy members ticked the Winslet for the first time. Sure, it might be for "the wrong performance", but I'd actually say that - even in my own personal movie awards - I would have never given Winslet a gold medal yet either, despite many nominations.

Dell said...

If voters really had any level of discernment, they would have just had Winslet lose for "The Reader." Ask Peter O'Toole about what it really means to be "overdue." Kate Winslet losing five times prior is notable, and in a perfect world, she would have won for "Sense & Sensibility" (I wouldn't have said that she won for the wrong performance -- I would have loved this win, and she mopped the floor with Mira Sorvino that year anyway) AND "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" (though I know that she was lucky to get nominated for a role like that). But voters checked off something awful for her first win instead, and I'm not sweeping that under the rug just b/c it's her "time" to win or whatever other bullshit people throw out there about accepting poor winners ("gosh, that's just how it goes -- people always win for the wrong performances -- ACCEPT IT ALREADY!" Pffft.).

regina george said...

Hayden: you've totally nailed down my thoughts on why Winslet was wrong for Hanna from the get-go in your post.

I think we could have used a Binoche or a Cotillard in this part. Binoche has a way of winding into women who can't seem to relate their actions to their thoughts, something truly crucial to Hanna Schmitz that I think Winslet tried to achieve by just shutting off, which was ultimately the less nuanced and fulfilling choice, I think. Cotillard shows such a lust for survival in all of her performances, especially her recent eyecatching roles as Piaf, Luisa, and Billie. This too is an innate characteristic of Hanna.

Blanchett and Streep would have mopped the floor with Hanna to the point of it looking to easy. Kidman, I think, would have stumbled on a few of the technical roadblocks that Winslet did (we never quite buy her "dressed down," difficulty with thick European accents), but I think her intellectual (cerebral, thank you, Nathaniel), would have emphasized Hanna's misgivings in a less blunt way.

Poor Winslet. Mis-****ing-cast.