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Film review: La Lectrice (The Reader)

Published: Saturday, Oct. 14 1989 12:00 a.m. MDT

Miou-Miou almost single-handedly makes "La Lectrice (The Reader)" worth seeing. Smart, innocent, sexy and utterly charming in the lead role(s) here, Miou-Miou is terrific at gaining audience sympathy, even when surrounded by characters that are at best superficial and at worst artificial.

As the film begins Miou-Miou is Constance, a wife reading to her husband in bed, and then we shift to the story she's reading as Miou-Miou plays the story's main character, Marie, who hires herself out as a reader.

Actually, Marie tries out this career on a lark, thinking that perhaps books-on-tape have displaced the necessity for a real live person reading to those who are incapacitated in some way. But she places an ad in a local paper anyway, just to see if there might not be a market for someone to read great literature aloud to those who need a diversion.

To her surprise the responses are swift and diverse, though not without ulterior motives. And soon she is reading everything from Tolstoy to Maupassant to Lewis Carroll, etc., to a variety of clients, including a teenage paraplegic, who is more interested in Marie's legs than her stories; a little girl who steals her mother's jewelry and implicates Marie in the theft; the widow of a Hungarian general, who is fanatically enamored of the writings of Marx and Lenin; a middle-aged klutz who really wants a lover, not a reader; and finally, an older judge who has her read graphic passages from the writings of the Marquis de Sade.

As the film progresses it becomes apparent that director/co-writer Michel Deville is more interested in the sexual interests of some of Marie's clients than in her efforts to bring great literature into their homes. As such, the film is more often than not derailed from what seem to be its original intentions, not to mention the bulk of its charm.

Still, there are some very nice moments of humor and Miou-Miou is delightful throughout. But if you decide to venture forth, bring your reading glasses. This is a talky film and there are a lot of English subtitles to plow through.

"La Lectrice" is rated R for sex, nudity and vulgarity.