During WWII SS officer Kurt Gerstein tries to inform Pope Pius XII about Jews being sent to extermination camps. Young Jesuit priest Riccardo Fontana helps him in the difficult mission to inform the world.
In World War II, the sanitation engineer and family man Kurt Gerstein 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 from an influent Italian family gives his best efforts being the liaison of Gerstein and the leaders of the Vatican.Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
When Gerstein witnesses truckloads of corpses being dumped into a mass grave and his driver remarks, "The crematoriums are overworked," this is in no way an exaggeration. There were actually efforts underway to solve this 'problem.' E.g. the 1942 patent-application T 58240 KI. states, "There exists the necessity to remove the constantly accumulating large number of corpses quickly, safely and hygienically." It proposes about 18 m high *continuously working* furnaces, in which "the corpses to be incinerated while fed into the furnace are constantly exposed to the flames and the gases from combustion which rise in opposite direction of their movement. Multi-part fire-clay sliding doors allow ... jamming of objects to be burned to be alleviated from outside ... Most ashes collect ... in the ash-collection-container, where they are constantly subject to the flue gas, so that possible not completely burnt residues can still post-burn and burn out in this ash-compartment." The capacity of one single unit of these incinerators was estimated at 1200 to 4800 corpses per day, or (conservatively assuming 300 days of operation per year) to 360,000 to 1.4 million per year. See more »
In one of the scenes they say that the Treblinka camp is out of gas, referring to Zyklon B. Treblinka didn't use Zyklon B, instead they used carbon monoxide. See more »
[interrupting a session of the Assembly of the League of Nations, Geneve, 1936]
My name is Stephan Lux. I am Jewish. The Jews are being persecuted in Germany and the world doesn't care.
[He draws a pistol]
I see no other way to reach people's hearts.
[He shoots himself]
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'Amen' is a recent release examining the relationship between the Vatican and Nazi Germany. We follow Kurt Gerheim (an admirable performance by Ulrich 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 in 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, rather than to more useful acts which do. The interest lies with the deterioration of Ricardo's faith in the Church's moral station and that of Gerheim's faith in his fatherland. Both find solace in the hope that they will put an end to the holocaust.
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.
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