Based on the memoirs of Fr. Jean Bernard, director Volker Schlöndorff (The Tin Drum) presents an all too human protagonist poised between two equally horrifying choices: stay true to his faith and be plunged back into abject despair, or avoid further torment by selling his soul. Despite some harrowing death camp scenes— hollow-eyed inmates recite a Latin prayer as one of their own is led to the gallows—this is not a holocaust movie per se but rather a study of what moves men to act, often against their best interests or the interests of others, and how they justify those actions at the end of the day. Was Judas’ betrayal of Christ (here echoed in one priest's order to influence the bishop of Luxembourg into endorsing the Nazi occupation) an act of treason or a revolutionary gesture? As Father Kremer, Ulrich Matthes’ cadaverous face seems perpetually etched in pain and guilt (a desperate act of self-preservation will forever haunt him) especially when played against the seductively Aryan features of August Diehl as idealistic Gestapo agent Gebhardt—an example of inspired casting if ever there was one. An intensely spiritual film in which men’s deeds drown out the rhetoric and the voice of god is frustratingly mute.
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