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|Index||54 reviews in total|
I think I am the first person from the USA to comment on this film. We
it as part of the Pittsburgh Filmmakers festival. There were only maybe
people at the screening we attended, and there were only two screenings.
This is so unfortunate.
This is an excellent film, and exemplifies, I think, the role of the arts in raising society's level of conscience and effecting social change. It galls me that a mind set is growing, (sixty years later) that refutes the occurrence of the holocaust. All the pictures, names and movie footage in the world will never change these people's minds; convincing them is not the issue. But when you take on the large institutions of society, when you make them accountable and demand that they fess up to their inadequacies, and that they not allow it to happen again, then you get the kind of permanent, positive change that is not eroded by a capricious shift in the political winds.
The amazing thing about this film was the powerful effect it achieved with very little, if any, shocking footage. We are conditioned to look away from all the "standard" holocaust images - the drawn faces, the gaunt skeletons, the bones in the ovens, the piles of shoes and personal effects. Instead, Gavras uses Gerstein's involvement with the engineering side of the issue, and paints a chilling picture of the magnitude of the killings. The project management meetings where they discuss the efficiency improvement strategies for gassing people and cleaning out the chambers are eerily similar to meetings I and many other Dilbert-types attend on a regular basis. The final scene at the camp where all the SS facilities officers chorus their concerns over decreased KILLING efficiency is ridiculously chilling. These guys could be whining about their bottom line numbers at a board meeting for any major corporation.
Gavras hammers home the numbers with the repeated scenes of empty trains going and full trains coming - and you never see a person in the full ones, only closed doors. Think about the numbers. A million people a year is nearly three thousand a day. Instead of making his point with stark images, the way so many other films have, Gavras keeps hammering the shear logistics, the size of the camps, the amounts of the gas needed, the HUGE numbers of people that had to be transported. Think of how big a train with a thousand people is - that's over three times the capacity of the biggest airliners. Gerstein's confrontation with his old friend, the transportation officer, points out how people could vilify certain nazis (SS and Gestapo), and yet remain conveniently ignorant of their own complicity.
The Vatican issued a watered down apology in 1998, admitting partial culpability and asking forgiveness. There are still many who believe that the diplomatic tightrope the Vatican walked was the best course. The conversation between Cardinal Maglione and the German ambassador is accurately taken directly from the Vatican archives. But Gavras makes a valid case that the arguments against outing the German killing machine were weak. That other protests had yielded positive results (look up the 1943 Rosenstrasse uprising) and that the motivations for not acting more decisively were based in part on anti-Semitism, along with diplomatic prudence.
Gavras trys to show that many people who could have acted knew all the facts and chose not to act. I remember, around the time Gavras' released "Z", how the protesters at the 1968 democratic national convention chanted "THE WHOLE WORLD IS WATCHING. THE WHOLE WORLD IS WATCHING!" It didn't matter then, and Gavras makes the case that it didn't matter during the holocaust; the political powers of the world move at their own pace.
Now, sixty years later, we have the last of the actual participants dying off. WWII veterans here in the USA are dying at a rate of 1500 a day, and their ranks are dwindling. There are fewer and fewer left to tell the story or be held accountable. It is incumbent on us, however, to uncover the cover-ups, identify the systems or methods that allowed such atrocities to happen, and make the changes in our society's structure to ensure they don't happen again. Gavras' film effectively does this. Like the principals in the film, we now know the real story. Like the principals in the film, how we act with this knowledge will be judged by future generations.
I was very surprised by reading so many bad comments about 'Amen.'.
This is a breathtaking movie about a German officer who realises what
they are actually doing to the Jews and who afterwards tries everything
to prevent this murdering. Ulrich Tukur gives one hell of a
performance. You really see this man suffering under the killings he
Another perfect performance is given by the priest who tries to help the German officer. Mathieu Kassovitz (who also played the male leading role in 'Le Fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain')is very convincing in his role.
I think this movie is highly underrated. Costa-Gavras has made an important movie with 'Amen.' which looks at the holocaust-tragedy from another point of view which is seldom showed. The movie gives a true although unbelievable answer at one of the most important questions concerning the holocaust: didn't anyone saw this coming? Couldn't anyone prevent this from happening?
If you really want to know the answers to this questions, you certainly have to watch 'Amen.'. This movie should at least have an 8 and I'll give you two reasons why: one because the story is unique and magnificently told; and two because the two leading actors are giving the performance of a lifetime. Highly recommendable!
"Amen," a film based on the largely accurate account of German SS officer
Kurt Gerstein's multiple attempts to alert the Vatican to the ongoing highly
efficient mass slaughter of Jews and others - for which he bore no small
responsibility as a technician facilitating efficient genocide - is well
done with excellent acting. Yet in the end Costa-Gravas's film is somewhat
unsatisfying and not sufficiently responsive to the viewer's need to know
what Gerstein was all about. Why?
"Amen" begins with the Nazi euthanasia program aimed at murdering retarded and mentally ill Germans. A campaign, spearheaded by both Protestant and Catholic clerics and their flocks, forced the regime to end the killings. Some have argued that this sole widespread public rejection of Nazi homicidal machinations might well have been repeated if Germans were alerted - internally or through specific denunciations by the pope and foreign leaders - of the fate of deported Jews and those rounded up in conquered territories. "Amen's" Kurt Gerstein and his priest friend both believe that would have happened.
That argument is at best questionable and, more likely, reflects the human need for the wish to spawn the thought. Whether one accepts the Goldenhagen thesis of mass complicity by Germans in the Holocaust, the fact remains that when the slaughter began Germany was at war and, as a character in "Amen" notes, defending the Reich and winning the war, to say nothing of staying clear of what would be seen as treasonous ideas, was the only realistic option.
Kurt Gerstein is a mystery. As Hannah Arendt wrote of Eichmann as an example of evil's often banal incarnation, historian Saul Friedlander described Gerstein years ago in terms of the ambiguity of good. Gerstein sincerely and at risk to his life tried to warn the Vatican of the Nazi death camps. But he also worked efficiently to make those camps operationally efficient. "Amen's" Gerstein is tortured but also highly compartmentalized. He gives quick and accurate advice to improve destruction of the "units," as the Jews were referred to, and then tries to prevent use of the Zyklon B gas he helped develop with almost unbelievable declarations that shipments are defective and must be buried.
This film owes its origin not so much to Friedlander's compelling account but to Rolf Hochhuth's controversial (still so after many years) "The Deputy," presented as a play to the outrage of many. Hochhuth portrayed Pope Pius XII as insensitive and unwilling to use his moral authority to challenge an extermination program he knew to be in progress.
In the film Gerstein is aided by a young Jesuit priest whose remarkable moral and physical courage was demonstrated by a few, or perhaps too few, clerics who knew what was happening. The pope is shown as a remote, unemotional figure. The now standard explanations for the Vatican's unwillingness to take on the Nazis are included in catalogue format. Allied unwillingness to bomb the death camps or take in refugee Jews are recited almost for the record. Complex questions still debated are reduced to the equivalent of sound bites. They need no repeating here.
Hochhuth's thesis which outraged many decades ago and which still brings angry denunciations has been partially rehabilitated by scholarly works such as John Cornwell's provocatively titled study, "Hitler's Pope," an exaggeration which belies the serious research and analysis within the book's covers.
Cornwell's pope is personally unpleasant, haughtily autocratic, rabidly fearful of Communism, at least mildly anti-Semitic and certainly emotionally and politically pro-German if not pro-Hitler (he wasn't that). The Pope Pius of "Amen" lacks the depth a more accurate and compelling portrayal would have provided.
The strongest moments in the film are those briefly showing the efficiency of the death camps focusing less on the victims, most of whom aren't shown, but rather on the chillingly competent technicians and logisticians without whose efforts millions could not have been murdered.
Director Costa-Gravas deserves much credit for bringing a difficult to tell complex story to the screen. Ultimately, however, we know less about Kurt Gerstein than we need to and the Vatican, from pope to bureaucrat, is too colorless. Was Gerstein a victim or a collaborator with a schizophrenic sense of morality? Even scholar Friedlander couldn't answer that question. Did the Vicar of Christ shame his church's vision of Jesus by putting political expediency ahead of moral imperative? That is a very alive issue today but "Amen" gives us a largely one-dimensional Supreme Pontiff.
The cast is unknown to American viewers but all act with varying but generally strong ability. Gerstein and the Jesuit priest are especially well portrayed as men of deep conviction.
The challenge for Kurt Gerstein after the war, in the hands of the allies,
and for Costa-Gavras in this film, is to convince us that he, Kurt
S.S. officer, was bravely acting as the "eyes of God" in watching the
holocaust unfold before his eyes. It is hard to believe that a man of
conscience could actively participate in something he found so entirely
heinous. But the amazing work of Gavras and Ulrich Tukur who plays
succeeds. It is very difficult to play a noble and virtuous man and not
become a saintly characature. Tukur succeeds in rounding out a believable
character who inspires us to believe in man's innate goodness. Indeed
pretty much has to carry this film and he does. Kudos. Mathieu Kassovitz
as the young Jesuit priest is not as strong but his character is less
central to the story.
This film is very powerful. In it's veiled presentation of the holocaust it manages to convey the horror with as much emotional impact as any previous film dealing with this dark history. The real sorrow, for me, is to watch our protagonists struggle believing that "if only the world knew" there would be an outpouring of outrage that would put a stop to the atrocities. Unfortunately these good men don't seem to grasp the darker side of human nature that can turn a blind eye. In the final chapter a brilliant plot twist brings home the horror in the most personal of ways to all of those Vatican "diplomats".
A powerful, horrible and beautiful film.
The film offers an open-ended answer to this popular question. It
begins with a graphic portrayal of the Nazi euthanasia programme which
killed 50,000 'mental defectives'. This links us to the main
protagonist, Kurt Gerstein, an SS scientific officer who develops the
Zyklon B gas which allows mass-murder of Jews and Gypsies to proceed on
an industrial scale. Gerstein's niece is a euthanasia victim. Gerstein
is a committed evangelical Christian with an anti-Nazi past who
normally would not be allowed into the SS. Gerstein's father is an
enthusiastic Nazi who pulls strings to get his son into the SS,
presumably seen as a safer option than the army and also as the elite
corps of the Nazi state. Entirely plausible, as many evangelical
Christians became enthusiastic Nazis. Gerstein's expertise in
developing water purification and anti-typhus procedures for the German
army allows him to prosper within the SS, despite his multiple treason.
The murder of his niece and the Jews appalls his Christian conscience. His wincing reaction whilst looking through the gas chamber spy-hole is well-acted. He alerts the Swedes and the Catholic Church, hoping that international pressure will awaken the German conscience. Catholic opposition has stopped the euthanasia programme and this can be mobilised to help the Jews.
In reality, Gerstein's options are limited. His own church leaders react mutely to his news of mass-murder. They caution restraint. Nazi indoctrination is trying to turn everyone into a rabid anti-Semite - as shown comically with Gerstein's youngest son giving annoying Hitler salutes. Most Protestants agree to join the new Nazi-sponsored 'Reich Church', happily reconciling faith with Nazism. Similarly, the 1933 Concordat with Hitler gave the Catholic Church a precarious protection as long as it stayed out of politics.
Carpet-bombing of German cities is killing women, children and babies. German forces are engaged in a titanic struggle against the 'forces of international Jewry ' - Russian Communism and American Capitalism. Facing this kind of mind-set and mass paranoia, the Jews needed a miracle. Saving mentally-handicapped members of German families is one thing. Saving a long-despised race thought to be the root cause of every world problem is very much another.
Gerstein's attempts to alert the Vatican are channelled through an invented character, a young Catholic priest who symbolises the conscience of thousands of individual Catholics who risked their lives to help Jews. He eventually sacrifices himself at Auschwitz, a Christ-like figure who 'redeems' his religion in the face of a terrible evil.
The controversial Pope Pius XII is portrayed in a curiously anodyne way - to the distaste of those who regard him as a Nazi sympathiser. The Vatican's fear of Communism, its efforts to hide Italian Jews and its self-preservation instinct in facing the Nazis are all clearly demonstrated. As is the help it gave to individual SS men on the run after the war. One is left to make up one's own mind about the Pope.
In truth, neither the Church nor the SS were monolithic organisations. Both were composed of individuals, good and bad. One reason for death factories was to save SS men from the horrors of mass-shootings. They offered a 'sanitised' method of killing, just as the 1933 Concordat offered a sanitised way for Nazism and Catholicism to relate to each other. Problems arose for individuals who had to make moral choices in carrying out these policies.
The controversial Roman lunch scene depicts the American ambassador discussing the fate of the Jews with Vatican big-wigs. Against a wonderful panoramic backdrop of the eternal city, they enjoy an excellent sea food meal. The American points out that finding an alternative home for millions of Jews would cause great problems. Nazi retaliation would only make things worse, counters a Vatican big-wig. A far cry from the cattle trucks rolling to and fro, emptying Europe of its Jews. This is a 'cheap shot' - decision-makers usually enjoy better material conditions than the rest of us. One can imagine Churchill discussing sensitive topics in a cold-blooded way over many a fine meal. It makes for good cinema, though!
This is an excellent film which covers a vast topic in 2 hours. It does not make judgements about Gerstein or the Christian churches. The Gerstein character is a complex one as is the Christian response to the Holocaust. It shows how difficult it is to 'buck the system' during wartime. Gerstein arrives at Auschwitz with the comforting knowledge that the allies 'never bomb the camps' - they know they are full of 'POW's'. Would prolonged bombing of the railways to the death camps have made a difference? Many Jews believe that this could and should have happened.
Should the allies have re-directed their military efforts to save Jews rather than merely fight the Nazis? Unfortunately, the 1930's and World War 2 had de-sensitised people to civilian suffering - newsreels from China, Abyssinia, Guernica; the Nazi bombing of Warsaw, Rotterdam, London, Coventry, the V1 and V2 attacks of 1944. World War I blurred the line between soldiers and civilians. World War 2 completely obliterated this distinction - on both sides of the conflict. Axis forces brought death to millions of Chinese and Russian civilians. The Allied bombing of Germany, Japan and northern France all produced heavy civilian casualties. Is there an essential difference between mass-bombing and the Holocaust?
European anti-Semitism aided the Holocaust. The miracle is that so many individual Gentiles did so much to aid Jews. Nazism put new ideas about human rights to the test. Governments and organisations may have been found wanting especially Vichy France. Individuals - including many brave Germans responded magnificently. This is the 'positive' side of the Holocaust which we should remember and treasure. Gerstein did his best to sabotage and stop the killing machine he became part of. The film allows us to make up our own minds about whether he and the Catholic Church did enough.
The new movie from Costa-Gavras is as believable as his former ones:
The Confession, State of Siege, Missing. Perhaps his tale about the role
the Catholic Church can offer some doubts to Europeans and
subscribers of IMDB, but people who lived in Argentina during the last
military dictatorship (1976-1983) can agree that there are
In my country we had a lot of missing or killed Catholic priests and
nuns. Riccardo Fontana represents them. Some bishops (De Nevares,
Novak, perhaps another one) fought for human rights. But the official
Church, including the papal nuncio, the rest of the bishops, and
the "military vicars" (who gave "spiritual comfort" to torturers and
who threw human bodies to the River Plate) where in the same role that
XII and the Vatican staff.
It is not an attack to Roman Catholics. Usually, the religious
hierarchies are always in the side of the political power. You can see
muslim priests giving spiritual comfort to terrorists, as rabbies in the
Israel Army do to soldiers who killed a Palestinian family. "Our"
are always dispensed from the observance of the Commandments.
'Amen' is a recent release examining the relationship between the Vatican
and Nazi Germany. We follow Kurt Gerheim (an admirable performance by
Tukur), a perfectly Aryan, protestant SS-Officer who tries to speak out
against Nazi attrocities, and Ricardo Fontana, a young catholic cleric
(played to the utmost by the marvellous Matthieu Kassovitz) who joins him
his fight. Ricardo's dissolusionment in the Church (which acts more as an
institution for self-preservation than for good in this film) leads him to
irrational and useless acts which do not conflict with his morality,
than to more useful acts which do. The interest lies with the
of Ricardo's faith in the Church's moral station and that of Gerheim's
in his fatherland. Both find solace in the hope that they will put an end
This is noticeably a continental European film, with brilliant direction and dazzlingly good acting, more Gosford Park than Schindler's List in terms of pace. Indeed, this slow pace only highlights the frustration felt by the two main characters as they are continually beaten down by the well-meaning leaders of their Churches.
Frustration, interestingly, is the only lasting emotion inspired in the viewer. Dr Germaine Greer attributed this, wrongly, I believe, to the fact that the film "doesn't seem to go anywhere", highlighting the leitmotiv frame of a so-called 'goods' train on its way to an unseen destination as a representation of this lack of direction. I would venture to suggest, though, that a conclusion is precisely what the director, the justly renowned Costa Garvas, was trying to avoid - he does not straightjacket his characters plainly as either heroes or villains and the film closes with the issues of morality it has raised left open-ended. It is meant to be thought provoking, not moving; the viewer is meant to conclude for himself what was morally correct and what was not.
At the end of the film, I found myself wondering which of the characters was most right - for none, it would seem, have a sole handle on the moral high-ground and there are arguments that promote each character's actions over another's. Whatever way you see this film and whatever conclusion you draw, it is a production which will not let you sleep easy until you have been challenged on many issues of morality.
This is a must watch film. It's a complex and controversial story,
well written, well acted, and the direction is superb.
The one dimensional nature of the main characters works very well - we see but a snapshot of the complexity of human nature and this begs you to ask the question of what would you do if you found yourself placed in such circumstances.
This is perhaps a trademark of Costa-Gavras's work (Mad City, Missing and Z in particular)
It is not just a cold view of the history of the time nor is it seeking to provide an answer to the big question - just shed light on the circumstances and on human nature.
In World War II, the sanitation engineer and family man Kurt Gerstein
(Ulrich Tukur) is assigned by SS to be the Head of the Institute for
Hygiene to purify the water for the German Army in the front. Later, he
is invited to participate in termination of plagues in the
concentration camps and he develops the lethal gas Zyklon-B. When he
witnesses that the SS is killing Jews instead, he decides to denounce
the genocide to the Pope to expose to the world and save the Jewish
families. The idealist Jesuit priest Riccardo Fontana (Mathieu
Kassovitz) from an influent Italian family gives his best efforts being
the liaison of Gerstein and the leaders of the Vatican.
I do not have the knowledge of history to know whether this story is accurate or manipulative, but as a movie it is powerful and striking. Costa-Gavras directs this film about Holocaust based on the history of the German Kurt Gerstein, who unsuccessfully tried to tell the world about the mass murderers in the concentration camps. The performance of Ulrich Tukur is magnificent, giving total credibility to his character. With regard to the role of the Catholic Church, I believe the exposition is simplistic and does not show the big picture of the political environment that the Vatican was living in that historical moment, focusing only in the attempt of the SS officer in having an audience with the Pope. My vote is eight.
Title (Brazil): "Amém." ("Amen.")
Very interesting...I do not know how true the facts are, that were
presented, but I think the movie is really worth a look. Especially, if we
consider that it isn't a typical American movie...of course, that's because
it isn't American!
A movie that has, more or less, a very significant meaning and moral...we
all know about the Holocaust...the terror, unleashed by the German nazi's.
The madness of men. And here we have a movie, filmed in Romania, with this
A German SS officer, Kurt Gerstein(Ulrich Tukur), finds out about the crimes
against millions of Jews. He decides to kind of sabotage the killings, and
ultimately ends up, wanting to tell Pope Pie XII(Marcel Iures) about these
crimes. He gets help from Riccardo Fontana(Mathieu Kassovitz), a Jesuit
priest, in this matter. Riccardo's father is an important person at the
Vatican(count) and so, he tries to help them. The story will be sad enough,
and it will show the ignorance of the Catholic Church. If this is true, or
it is not I can't say. But the movie is special, and touching.
The trains have a very important role. Every time I saw them, I felt a
shiver through my body, just because of the idea that they might be filled
The special effects could've been better. For example, when Riccardo goes to
eat with his father and other personalities, you can see what seems to be
the Vatican. But it is more than obvious that it isn't true. Of course, this
is not very bothering...
The music is absolutely perfect! I really enjoyed it, and I don't see who
didn't! The actors were good, but there were some flaws, here and
Costa Gavras, the director, did a very good job here, in creating an
interesting movie. Despite the lack of much action, the film is pleasant,
but shocking...well, how could it be if we consider the
I think all should see this movie, especially because it's a good change
from the American stereotype.
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