Sunday, July 8, 2012

11. The Reader

The International Military Tribunal of Nuremberg is often cited as the birthmark of international criminal justice.  Twenty Nazis were prosecuted by the Nuremberg Tribunal for crimes against peace and crimes against humanity.  The trials for those responsible for crimes perpetrated during the Holocaust remain ongoing.  Eichmann was prosecuted in Israel in the 1960s, Barbie was prosecuted in France and Demjanjuk has most recently been brought to justice in Germany (on trial for the second time).  The Control Council No. 10 trials and trials in different Allied countries form part of the jurisprudence of international criminal justice on war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.  

In the Reader (2008) directed by Stephen Daldry, Michael (David Kross and Ralph Fiennes) falls in love with a woman twice his age, Hanna (Kate Winslet).  Michael reads to Hanna and they have a secret and passionate affair until one day Hanna suddenly disappears.  Michael sees her again many years later, this time as a law student, observing trials for crimes committed by Nazis.  Hanna is on trial with many other women for being concentration camp guards.  Hanna confesses to being the ringleader of the group of women on trial since she is illiterate and is more ashamed of this fact than being found guilty for the crimes.  This is also because she has such guilt over the crimes she has perpetrated.  In the end, after her sentence has been served she commits suicide. 

The film left me with mixed feelings. As a Hollywood production is it formally very polished with a clear narrative structure.  The film was nominated for a number of Oscars and Kate Winslet won the  Oscar for best actress.  

I didn't like the film the first time I watched it, but after revisiting it a few times, it did get better.  It is interesting to see women on trial for Nazi crimes.  Feminist scholars have commented that international criminal justice tends to paint women as victims rather than showing the multifaceted roles women play in conflict, including perpetration and resistance.  Both the ICTY and ICTR have convicted women for their role in perpetrating crimes against humanity and genocide. 

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