Original release: May 30th, 2002
Running time: 131 minutes
Country of origin: Germany, Romania, France
Writers: Jean-Claude Grumberg, Costa-Gavras
Cast: Ulrich Tukur, Mathieu Kassovitz
The Holocaust was an event unlike any other that took place in the 20th century. What began with the discrimination against the Jews and lead to them being torn away from their families and communities and then tortured, experimented on and put to work in the worst conditions any of us can imagine until they were finally murdered, was something that happened over a long period. From 1933 to 1945 the Nazis worked to achieve this wicked goal; to murder the entire Jewish population of Europe and to destroy its culture. Of the eleven million Jews that were living in Europe in 1941, by 1945 six million of them had been murdered. Of these, over one and half million were children.
Yet for all the Nazis did, they couldn’t have done it alone. While they had supporters from occupied Europe there were also many others who stood by as this evil was being committed.
Amen, based on the 1963 play by Rolf Hochhuth, The Deputy, A Christian Tragedy, is the story of newly commissioned SS Lieutenant and respected civilian chemist Kurt Gerstein (played by Ulrich Tukur) who visits the deathcamps and witnesses the mass gassing of Jewish men, women and children.
Gerstein, who’s employed in the SS Hygiene Institute and designs programs for the purification of water and the destruction of vermin, with his visit to the deathcamps he also discovers that he’s been playing a vital part in allowing the murders to happen. The process he’s developed to eradicate typhus, by using a hydrogen cyanide mixture called Zyklon B, is being used in the gas chambers and the Nazis want him to help them streamline the process.
Gerstein secretly approaches the Swedish Consulate, the German Protestant community and finally Vatican representatives in the hopes of exposing this unspeakable crime. The only one who listens is Riccardo Fontana (Mathieu Kassovitz), a young Jesuit priest with deep family connections at the Vatican. Ricardo promises Gerstein he’ll alert the Pope to the Jewish genocide in hopes that the pontiff will reveal and denounce the Final Solution to the Christian world.
It’s an immensely powerful and gripping story that’s brought to life by these actors, and while the cinematography captures both the horrors in Germany and beauty of the Vatican City (though the film was shot in Romania), Amen is a film which is more focused on examining the close links between the Roman Catholic Church and Nazi Germany – a link which many would like to ignore.
As I watched its story unfold to its deeply upsetting ending I couldn’t help but shed tears; for the Jews that died, those who tried but failed to stop it and those who stood by and watched it all happened. While Amen is based on the real life story of SS officer Kurt Gerstein; Riccardo Fontana is a fictional character created to represent all priests who fought against Nazi persecution of Jews and Mathieu Kassovitz handled the role with much grace and compassion, effortlessly making me feel what it must’ve been like to be among the few who tried to stand up for millions.
It’s a film I believe everyone should see as it’s an important story that makes us ask questions which have too long been hushed up. It’s a piece of history that should be told – of how the Church willingly turned a blind eye to the Holocaust and allowed for these atrocities to be committed.
Unfortunately, not everyone got a chance to see it when it was released theatrically – at least not in Britain the media were more concerned about the promotional posters for the film which showed a swastika superimposed on a crucifix. As a result of this outrage Amen was cancelled from nationwide publicity campaigns and reduced to only a handful of independent cinemas around the country.
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .