By William Wolf

AMEN  Send This Review to a Friend

Costa-Gavras has long been a bold director with a strong social commitment to making films that matter. Recall his "Z," "The Confession," State of Siege, "Missing" and "the Music Box." With "Amen" he exposes the failure of The Vatican to use its power and prestige to interfere with the extermination of Jews by the Nazis during World War II. But Costa-Gavras is no mere polemicist. He knows how to make a film drama that grabs us, and "Amen," which he co-wrote with Jean-Claude Grumberg based on Rolf Hochhuth's play "The Deputy" does just that.

There are two heroes in "Amen." One is Kurt Gerstein, given a standout performance by Ulrich Tukur. He is the unlikeliest of heroes. Gerstein was a real person, an SS Officer and chemist, and as the film tells it, he is appalled when supplying Zyklon B gas to prison camps, supposedly only for decontamination, he witnesses its use for extermination of Jews. His conscience leads him to struggle to alert the Vatican and Protestant leaders in Germany to the atrocity and convince them to help stop the killing.

The other hero, a composite of priests who took action, is a young Jesuit, Father Ricardo (passionately played by Mathieu Kassovitz), whose father is close to Pope Pius XII. Gerstein and Ricardo team in an urgent mission to break through the wall of indifference and political concerns that impede the Vatican from acting. Meanwhile, the death toll increases day by day. The drama defines moral obligation as it follows Gerstein and Father Ricardo acting upon their consciences in the face of rebuff and danger.

To keep up the tension and stress the timetable Costa-Gavras has hit upon a searing visual device. He shows the death trains going back and forth, always coming back empty. It is an extremely effective idea. Dramatically, depicting persons acting upon their beliefs is strong plot material. Here the action is particularly involving, as it goes to the heart of an issue that has been argued about for years--what the Vatican might have done but didn't. The year 2003 has just begun, but "Amen" stands likely to remain one of its most important films. A Kino International release.


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