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Amen. | Review

Condem “nation”

Drama shows what one man can do.

You hear about the heroics ones, those who brave the harshest conditions and take the life-threatening risks to help out fellow man, but then the flipside has proven that the opposite also exists with those who think it is better to not get involved. History reveals that ‘turning a blind eye’ can have fatal consequences, unfortunately history is still repeating itself. Based on the 1960 play of Rolf Hochhuth, director Costa-Graves uses a filmic dynamism to pose the question of-what was the role one of the most powerful institutions-The Vatican under the supremacy of an SS Germany? The answer is initially illustrated with the film’s movie poster of a merged swastika blended with a holy cross which basically shows that in the face of evil both diplomacy and politics were excuses that got in the way in the duty of the church.

Amen. is a poignant drama that captures the desperation of one man, an SS officer named Gerstein who is trying to turn back the clocks of time and risks everything to denounce the actions of the Nazi. German actor Ulrich Tukur (Solaris) plays his role with conviction, showing man in depravation of sleep but more importantly from in a loss of hope-that feeling of emptiness of the character is brilliantly paralleled to the many shots of vacant freight trains that hauntingly remind the viewer of the madness of the situation. The helpless protagonist is overpowered by a series of antagonists-the real surprise is the shape and forms of his adversaries, which are not all wearing the SS uniform. The other man in black, this time the black robe of a priest played by Mathieu Kassovitz (Birthday Girl) is the one who ups the ante and takes the bigger risk, which ultimately leads him and his faith to the path of saintliness. Human suffering is the key subject of the film and Graves distinctly avoids the character contraptions of a Life Is Beautiful or a Schindler’s List type of character- Gernstein and the priest are very much the eyes and ears of the audience put the power of the film lies in the direction in which the narrative puts more of an emphasis on the historical events rather than useless character development.

Contrary to what one might think, is that the characters are not one dimensional – for example one poignant scene sees a group of SS officers resembling a pack of peeping toms who are looking through a glass peep-hole at the showers of death- when Gernstein looks in, but the audience and the shot selection does not follow. The horror that the character feels is much more vital to the scene than providing cheap shock material for the audience to view. Perhaps it asks for less of an emotional commitment from the viewer but the dramatic tone of the picture has many more highs than lows and the additional thriller element of and question of..Will he get caught or found out, and how far will he get in his mission? Keepos the interest level elevated. The film does have some slower moments, but despite this Graves does a very good job at giving us the story within the even bigger, historical phenomenon story that occurred under Hitler’s rule. The director’s choice in shots, the casting and even details like picking German actors to portray Germans (however I would have preferred subtitles when two people who speak one native tongue communicate in another language-English? ) makes Amen. a picture worth seeing and then conversing.

Rating 3 stars

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist, and critic at IONCINEMA.com, established in 2000. A regular at Sundance, Cannes, and Venice, Eric holds a BFA in film studies from the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013, he served on the narrative competition jury at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson’s "This Teacher" (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022, he was a New Flesh Juror for Best First Feature at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Current top films for 2023 include The Zone of Interest (Glazer), Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (Pham Thien An), Totem (Lila Avilés), La Chimera (Alice Rohrwacher), All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson).

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