Amen (2002)

Original Title : Amen.
Director : Costa-Gavras
Writer : Costa-Gavras
Jean-Claude Grumberg
Rolf Hochhuth
Genre : Drama
Country : France
Language : English
Producer : Claude Berri , Andrei Boncea , Yvon Crenn , Pierre Grunstein , Dieter Meyer , Roland Pellegrino , Michèle Ray-Gavras
Music : Armand Amar
Photography : Patrick Blossier
Distributor : A-Film Distribution [nl]
IMDB ID : 0280653
Official site :
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poster for "Amen" by Costa-Gavras (2002)
Amen (2002) - Costa-Gavras


ÂUlrich Tukur Kurt Gerstein
ÂMathieu Kassovitz Riccardo Fontana
ÂMathieu Kassovitz Riccardo Fontana


Two systems: the Nazi machine versus the Vatican and Allied diplomacy. Two men struggling from the inside. On one side, Kurt Gerstein, a real-life chemist and SS officer, supplied the death camps with zyklon B while he tirelessly denounced the crimes and alerted the Allies, the Pope, the Germans and their churches at his family's and his own risk. On the other, Ricardo Fontana, a young Jesuit, a fictitious character who represents all the priests who had the heart to struggle against savagery, often paying for their courage with their lives. Countless priests, some known, others anonymous, who simply were not content to live with the silence of their church's hierarchy.


Costa-Gavras should not have shot this film. All but one of the previous commenters here, including the earliest, Baybars, chose to delve into the Vatican's responsibility, as they were free to. This is historical background to the film, and the debate is historical or religious. But what about the film itself as a film? Amen shows how much Costa-Gavras is a maker of action films. He needs action to hold his script together, to direct his main actors and to construct his shots. Well, as Baybars points out, the topic here is conscience (Gerstein's and Fontana's) and process (in the Vatican and, for that matter, in the SS). Centering on action distracts from the topics that justify the film -- not to mention that this leaves the action script with the minor problem that all viewers know the ending full well: nothing happened to stop the death camps. Thinking Amen had been shot in French, I saw it in French. I don't know how it was shot, but the French was obviously dubbed, and one minor line was left undubbed -- in English. So, perhaps it sounds a bit more real in English, who knows? What I found is that, after the first sequence showing the elimination of retarded Aryans, the film almost never manages to seem German. Think of the current K-19 with Harrison Ford as a Russian naval officer. It felt made-for-TV. Germany is the locale of about 85% of the film. The rest is in the Vatican. I have no experience there, but the Vatican shots to my eye looked thoroughly stagey, much worse than the German parts. I hate this in a historical film. People are not supposed to be walking on stage to play a scene, they're supposed to be observed leading their daily life in their daily way. As for the staging -- An action film needs action, and Costa-Gavras fills the film with actions to shoot. But what the film is about is something the viewer should chew on, a matter of reflection, not action. Gerstein weighing the fact that if, as is likely, he is found to have betrayed a major secret, his family will be gone to the ovens too. Not Gerstein playing the world's most external father on occasional trips home. The whole atmosphere of Götterdamerung (post-Stalingrad) under which much of the Shoah occurred, not one scene where Gerstein's superior, the Doctor, inquires whether G has been fixing for an exit through the Vatican, then a second one where the Doctor makes use of that exit (to Argentina -- and this is authentic). Etc. The film needed 50% fewer scenes, but scenes twice as long. As for Fontana, the young Jesuit Vatican diplomat -- The film is very good at showing how every religious superior he faces clearly tells him it's no use bringing coals to Newcastle, or news of the elimination of the Jews of Europe to the Holy Father. At best, it would be a challenge for a film to make Fontana's insistence believable. Costa-Gavras doesn't seem to have even felt there was a challenge, he needed a second protagonist the audience could root for. Well, the audience could, if the audience could believe in Fontana for longer than 200 seconds. I could go on -- for instance, the famous shots of full and empty cattle cars rolling through winter's countryside are wasted through cinematic insensivity. But you get the point. If Costa-Gavras was a deeper film-maker, he would have realised he's not Spielberg, and that Spielberg in Schindler's List had the insight to choose a far simpler and more direct topic than that of The Deputy. This simply wasn't the place to do Z Redux.
poster for "Amen"
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Amen (2002) - Costa-Gavras
poster for "Amen"
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Amen (2002) - Costa-Gavras