Film #44 in the World War II Marathon takes on the Catholic church, but it looks fantastic while doing so!
Written By: Costa-Gavras & Jean-Claude Grumberg
Directed By: Costa-Gavras
Freight trains come and go during Amen. They leave with their doors closed and they return with their cars wide open for all the world to see. These trains travel the European countryside, powered by the German war machine. They reek of death and wrongdoing, but no one notices, or at least no one appears to notice. The truth of the matter is that people do notice, but for them ignorance is much safer than the knowledge of what is truly going on within their Third Reich. Trains pass through the screen, they continue unimpeded, their cargo of humanity exists as nothing more than cattle. A few people attempt to speak up, they attempt to halt the horror that surrounds them, but their efforts fall on deaf ears. Again, ignorance works much better than admitting to that which you don’t feel you have the power to admit to. For years this trend continues and the trains continue to run, eventually the ignorance of the people gives way to the truth of the situation, but still, the trains continue to run.
In only the second film from Costa-Gavras that I have seen, the first being Missing, he once again takes on the political and the philosophical. This time his target is in the more distant past and his subject is the most familiar aspect of World War II, the Holocaust. To Costa-Gavras’ credit he doesn’t take the usual look at the Holocaust, he opts for a less trodden path. He creates a docudrama about the role that ignorance played on all sides when it came to the implementation of the Nazi’s Final Solution. His inclusion of the Catholic church as well as a complexly sympathetic SS figure are nary seen in what we have come to know as the Holocaust feature. But, are the attempts at originality by Costa-Gavras enough to make up for a tale that is often times inert?
The easy answer to the above question is no, the inertness of Amen. is a continual detriment to the film, one that it never quite overcomes. However, if I look deeper those damn trains cause me to think Amen. moves a wee bit more into positive territory than I first wanted to admit. The story of Amen. never does pick up much momentum, it hits its crescendo early on and slowly fades away after that point. The ending of Amen. is very anti-climactic, and to be honest that is something the film can never recover from. Still, the story that Costa-Gavras weaves in Amen. is compelling, so compelling that Amen. doesn’t feel anywhere near its over two hour run time. The compelling nature of Amen. can be chalked up to the fact that I am always interested in the subject of World War II, but the reality is that Amen. is as compelling as it is because of the uniqueness of the subject matter in Amen.
But, the uniqueness of Amen.’s story as well as the lavish detail given to its visuals can’t fully make up for the early crescendo of the story and the lack of a real climax. When all is said and done I can only think of Amen. as a film that intrigued me but ultimately left me wanting more. I wanted Costa-Gavras to go more in depth in his treatise on ignorance, to explore the idea of a morally complex SS officer in more detail. I simply wanted more from Amen. than it was willing to give me. Amen. is an intriguing picture, it is a beautiful picture, it is a good picture but ultimately it is a picture that lacks punch or any sort of finality. It won’t hurt you to see Amen., you’ll probably even enjoy it, but if you’re like me you’ll leave the experience feeling like you missed out on that little bit extra to really make Amen. worth your time.