Movie Review by Alice Castle
Starring: Ulrich Tukur, Mathieu Kassovitz, Ulrich Muhe, Michel Duchaussoy
How Hitler managed to rise to power in Germany is one of the most fascinating historical issues of the last century – how the Nazis managed to exterminate millions of Jews in the holocaust while the German people turned a blind eye is even more intriguing. I recently took a trip to Sachsenhausen concentration camp in the northern outskirts of Berlin and was amazed to see where the camp was situated – not in the middle of nowhere – as I imagined it – but at the end of a pretty, suburban street lined with houses and geranium filled gardens. It seems that many must have known what was going on – but were too afraid to act – or more chillingly, were accepting of what was taking place.
Costa-Gavras’s film AMEN follows Kurt Gerstein – a chemist by trade, who after the outbreak of war was assigned to the SS to deal with the task of providing Zyclon B to the ‘camps in the east’. Gerstein came from a deeply religious family and when finding out what the chemicals were for, attempted to blow the whistle on what was taking place. Convinced that the German people would rise up and protest when they found out what was going on in the camps, Gerstein tried to pass a message through to the allied powers by way of the Swedish ambassador hoping that they would leaflet the German people by air and tell them to rise up in anger. When those with mental disabilities had been destroyed the church protested and the policy of extermination was reversed. In the case of the Jews, this never happened.
AMEN is based on the truth – but for the purpose of the film, Gerstein is befriended by Riccardo, a young Jesuit who he meets when visiting the Roman Catholic Cardinal in Berlin, hoping to pass a message on to the Vatican about the internment camps. Riccardo is deeply moved by what he hears and rushes back to Rome to inform the Pope and ask him to intervene in the situation. This is before the Germans occupied Rome, and the Pope and his entourage are reluctant to denounce the German policy – hoping to save the Vatican from being plundered.
Despite the subject matter and excellent performances by Ulrich Tukur and Mathieu Kassovitz the film didn’t quite get there for me – maybe because the script doesn’t seem to work in English and the repetitive motif of empty trains rushing back from the east begins to jar. It’s always difficult to base a film on history, and then add fictitious characters – but for those of you who enjoy an intriguing historical drama you won’t be disappointed.