The film adaptation of "The Reader" by German novelist Bernhard Schlink drew warm applause at the Berlinale, largely due to Kate Winslet's portrayal of an illiterate concentration camp guard.
Winslet plays a former Nazi guard in the film
The film, which is not in competition at the festival, was screened for an audience of reporters and critics on Friday, Feb. 6.
Based on the international bestseller by Schlink, "The Reader" tells the story of 15-year-old Michael Berg (David Kross) who has an affair with an older woman in Germany during the late 1950s.
The object of his desire is Hanna Schmitz, a tram conductor who is very secretive about her life, but who enjoys it when Michael reads to her from the great works of Western literature.
Much later, when he is a law student, he discovers that she was illiterate, and had worked as a Nazi concentration camp guard during the war.
Difficult balance for Winslet
The 33-year-old Winslet, who has been nominated for a best actress Oscar for her role in the film, said that after she read the novel, she believed "The Reader" was also a love story.
"It's a love story which has an impact on the rest of their lives," Winslet said at a news conference after the screening.
Winslet said she took German actor David Kross under her wing
As a character, Winslet said it was difficult to balance the shame and guilt that Hanna felt because of her illiteracy and her life during the Nazi era.
"I tried to make her a human being as well as showing her vulnerability and shame," she said.
The film's director, Stephen Daldry, who also directed "The Hours" and "Billy Elliot," said that unlike most movies about the Nazi period, "The Reader" was concerned with the perpetrators of the crimes rather than the victims.
"This is a movie about post-war Germany," Daldry said.
The film also stars Ralph Fiennes, who plays the older Michael. British writer David Hare adapted the novel into the screenplay.
Despite mixed reviews in the United States since its release, the film has garnered five Oscar nominations. In addition to Winslet's nomination, it's also up for best picture and best director for Daldry.