Tuesday 2 November 2010

La Lectrice/The Reader (Review)

I'm sure that you will agree with me, my lovely book-worm readers, that going to bed with Atwood or Rushdie is one of those pleasures in life that cannot be measured. Before you jump to the wrong conclusion, that of me advocating licentious literary displays, let me come clear. I'm referring to the simple act of reading in bed. Or being read to, which is better.

That's the premise at the centre of "La Lectrice" (The Reader), a French film from 1988 that I watched again recently. Constance (played superbly by Miou-Miou) is in bed with her boyfriend, to whom she is reading a novel aloud. Inspired by the book's main character, Marie, who hires her services out as a reader, Constance decides to do something similar. From here onwards fiction and reality combine together seamlessly to create a tale where the boundaries of what's
reality combine together seamlessly to create a tale where the boundaries of what's genuine and what’s not very often confuse the viewer.

Constance/Marie’s clients include a disabled young man, a general’s widow with strong communist leanings, a company director who can’t handle social interaction very well and a lascivious judge. Along the way we’re taken on a journey through some of literature’s classical works. Tolstoy, Duras and Sade are just some of the authors who cameo in the film.

La Lectrice” poses various questions: is reading a solitary activity or can it be shared? If shared, do you have to possess a particular voice to read to another person or an audience, or will your ordinary one do just as well? Can being read to change the way we interact with people?

The film benefits from a strong direction (Michel Deville) and leads, but occasionally it affects a false tone of sophistication. On top of that some of the nude scenes are gratuitous, in my opinion, especially after the playful atmosphere at the beginning. Saying that, Constance/Marie’s decision at the end of the film to refuse to read to the lascivious magistrate and his friends a passage from Sade’s “120 Days of Sodom”, is evidence that Miou Miou’s character is anything but a puppet.

I would recommend that you watch this film with a group of like-minded friends who are as keen on reading as you are, preferably on a Saturday night. Who knows, you might even arrange a reading session after!

© 2010

Next Post: “Let’s Talk About…”, to be published on Thursday 4th November at 11:59pm (GMT)


  1. You did say it was a comedy, No? Words have always been seductive, especially when they are accompanied by subtitles.

  2. Thanks Cuban, this was completely underneath my radar but I'll seek it out now!

  3. I can't wait to add this to my list. I remember, vaguely, seeing it many years ago, but I think I was too young or something. I always love when you write reviews of older movies, forgotten movies, films that I can watch and revel in again. Thanks, Cuban!

  4. it seems a sad fact that reading out loud is something that occurs far too rarely these days. i'm lucky in that i get to do so reasonably frequently tho i'm sure this has a lot to do with the fact that my audience is my other half and a friend who's dyslexic enough to make it far easier for him!

    but that aside, esp at this time of year when it's dark and the rain is banging at the windows there's nothing better than when we get in to maybe read something out (or maybe it's their way of getting me to shut up!)

  5. A lot of French films from the 80s contain gratuitous nudity in them - but then so do Hollywood films. So I won't hold that against them.

    This sounds like a really fun film. I'll have to check it out. (But I think I'll skip the reading session directly after!)


  6. Terrific review! I must see it. I miss the cafés of France and lingering with a book and coffee.

    When my now husband was courting me, he read aloud P.G. Wodehouse and The Wind in the Willows with all with the proper English accents. One of the best gifts I got for him was a beautiful old leather bound edition of The Wind in the Willows.

    I miss reading bedtime stories to our children and frequently read the same books as my teenaged daughter to keep that connection. I also share books through my blog and have connected with other bloggers through favorite authors. Reading is meant to be shared.

  7. Many thanks for your kind comments.

    Yes, Jai, a lot of French films from the 80s... AND the 70s and the 90s contain gratuitous nudity! :-) Theynever change, do they? Our Gallic friends. Mind you. If you're ever exposed to Spanish cinema from the 80s it's all frontal nudity and whathaveyou.

    Greetings from London.

  8. Sound, imagined scenes, the relationship between reader and the person being read to -- so many levels are engaged. This reminds me of when I read Rayuela out loud and how rich and multisensorial it was. Thanks for bringing this movie to my attention.

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