Der neunte Tag (2004)
TORONTO -- In The Ninth Day, Volker Schlondorff returns to the themes of morality and conscience during the Nazi period, themes that have occupied him and other European filmmakers for decades.
Constructed more like a theological debate than a dramatically expressed story, the film is thought-provoking but not terribly involving since right and wrong are clear from the start. The only issue is: Will the protagonist betray his conscience? The Ninth Day is certain to play the festival circuit, but will be a tough sell theatrically in North America.
Catholic priest Henri Kremer (Ulrich Matthes) gets a surprise release from the horrors of the Dachau concentration camp and is allowed to return home to Luxembourg. There he learns that this reprise is momentary: He is given nine days by Gestapo Untersturmfuhrer Gebhardt (August Diehl) to convince the bishop to support the Nazi occupiers and thus drive a wedge between the Luxembourg church and Rome. If he fails, he returns to Dachau. If he escapes, his family and all the priests in the camp will be killed.
As the bishop delays seeing Father Kremer, a dialogue breaks out between the gaunt, shrunken-faced priest, a physical wreck after Dachau, and the smooth-faced, facile Gebhardt. A former Catholic seminarian himself, Gebhardt uses the language of the priesthood to debate the moral implications of Kremer's dilemma and the role Judas played in the founding of the Catholic Church.
However, there is little evidence that Kremer could actually influence the bishop's decision, even if he wanted to. Nor does the film develop any suspense over the eventual outcome, as neither character has any real flexibility.
The story unfolds against a bleak and snowy Luxembourg, where all color has drained away, as dreary classical music plays in the background. This was, of course, one of the gloomiest periods of human history but there is still such as thing as overkill.
THE NINTH DAY
Provobis Film/Videopress/Bayerische Rundfunk
Director: Volker Schlondorff
Writers: Eberhard Groner, Andreas Pfluger
Producer: Jurgen Haase
Executive producer: Wolfgang Plehn
Director of photography: Tomas Erhart
Production designer: Ari Hantke
Music: Alfred Schnittke
Editor: Peter R. Adam
Henri Kremer: Ulrich Mattthes
Gebhardt: August Diehl
Marie Kremer: Bibiana Beglau
Roger Kremer: Germain Wagner
Running time -- 97 minutes
No MPAA rating
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