German director Volker Schlondorff's follow up to the thrilling THE LEGEND OF RITA (2000) is a grim meditation on faith and betrayal that focuses on a relatively obscure corner of Holocaust history: the fate of the Catholic clergy under the Third Reich. It opens, like so many Holocaust dramas before it, with a cattle car being unloaded before the barbed-wire gates of a concentration camp in this case, Dachau and its occupants brutally hustled into wooden barracks. These prisoners, however, aren't Jews but Christian clergymen, including Father Henri Kremer (Ulrich Matthes), a priest from Luxembourg who was arrested for anti-German activities. Henri continues to perform mass behind the backs of the antipapist guards, but after one of his colleagues is executed in a barbaric mockery of Christ's crucifixion and another commits suicide, Henri begins to wonder whether God hasn't forsaken them all. When Henri himself is dragged out of the barracks, he's certain his own martyrdom is at hand. Instead, he's given enough money for a one-way ticket back to Nazi-occupied Luxembourg. Any doubts Henri may have about this unexpected stroke of mercy are dispelled the moment he arrives in Luxembourg and is contacted by Untersturmfuhrer Gebhardt (August Diehl). In an effort to shake the Church's continuing hold over much of Europe and sway Pope Pius XII from overtly condemning the Reich's racial laws, the Nazis hope Henri's mentor, the Bishop of Luxembourg (Hilmar Thate), will sign a statement aligning his church with Hitler. The bishop, however, has virtually walled himself up inside the cathedral in protest. After informing Henri that he hasn't really been released from Dachau at all, but is rather on a conditional eight-day leave, Gebhardt entrusts Henri with the job of convincing the bishop to sign; if he fails, Henri will be returned to Dachau on the ninth day. If he tries to flee, all his comrades at the camp will be executed. Though the film sometimes feels repetitive, Schlondorff uses the series of meetings between the priest and the Nazi officer to fully explicate Henri's dilemma: He must choose between saving the lives of his fellow clergymen in Dachau and betraying his duty to a church that may have turned its back on the world. Anyone who's seen Oliver Hirschbiegel's DOWNFALL will remember Matthes' chilling turn as Joseph Goebbels, and it's interesting to see him acquit himself so well in a role that couldn't be more different. Eberhard Gorner and Andreas Pfluger's screenplay is based on the published prison journals of Jean Bernard, a Catholic priest who managed to survive 15 months in Dachau's notorious "Priest Block."
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- Released: 2004
- Rating: NR
- Review: German director Volker Schlondorff's follow up to the thrilling THE LEGEND OF RITA (2000) is a grim meditation on faith and betrayal that focuses on a relatively obscure corner of Holocaust history: the fate of the Catholic clergy under the Third Reich. It… (more)