It might have a UK director and US producers, but The Reader has been largely perceived as a local film by Germany's cinema-goers, thanks to the source material of Bernhard Schlink's best-selling 1995 novel. It also has a large number of German actors in the cast and the film was shot mainly in Germany.
Boosted by Kate Winslet's Oscar triumph, The Reader went straight in at number one on its first weekend of release, selling 360,830 tickets for a gross of $3.4m from a mid-sized 359 screens. The second weekend saw a drop in admissions of around 14%, but German distributor Senator Film plans to increase the number of prints by 30, to 490, for the film's third week on release this weekend.
The film is now the most successful release by Senator since it restructured two years ago and is the third-strongest opening in Senator's history after Little Asshole (559,774 admissions) and The Miracle Of Berne (383,302). The company expects The Reader to reach a total of 2 million admissions in Germany.
The right release date
Senator pre-bought German and Austrian rights for The Reader in September 2007 ahead of principal photography. 'The most important thing was to find the right release date,' says Senator Film managing director Peter Heinzemann, who worked on the assumption The Weinstein Company would be running a large-scale Oscar campaign and that the film would attract a number of nominations. His strategy was to submit the film for the Berlinale and aim for a post-festival release date.
With an invitation to screen out of competition secured, Senator decided to launch the film on February 26. The Berlinale screening was attended by director Stephen Daldry and screenwriter David Hare along with Winslet, Ralph Fiennes and the German cast, including up-and-coming young actor David Kross.
Targeting three markets
A three-pronged marketing strategy took shape, aimed at the reading public (publisher Diogenes brought out a new edition of Schlink's novel); schoolchildren (The Reader is required reading in many German schools); and regular cinema-goers attracted by an Oscar-calibre film.
Senator used social networking sites such as YouTube, Twitter and MySpace to promote the film and was able to reach readers of Schlink's book through the culture pages and via editorial and advertising on such online sites as Spiegel.de or Brigitte.de. The latter was particularly crucial to reach potential female cinema-goers.
'We sold it as a love story and focused on the leads, Kate Winslet and David Kross,' Heinzemann says.
He points out the debate about the treatment of the Holocaust in the film, which became a big talking point following its US release, was touched on only briefly by the German press since the issue had already been aired when the book was originally published in 1995.
The German critics have generally been positive about the film, singling out Winslet and Kross for particular acclaim.
Senator, which devised its own poster artwork for the German and Austrian releases, had booked TV spots for the trailer a week before the film's release on February 26 up until the first weekend, and ran a limited poster campaign including illuminated 'City Light' posters on the underground network.
In addition, there were premieres in North Rhine-Westphalia's Essen and the East German town of Gorlitz, which had been sold out weeks in advance - with members of the German cast and the film's German producers in attendance.