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iMJTRi CAVAlli A GREAT CAikolic Filivi (Mack By A PROTESTANT)

"Do you reject Satan? And all his works? And all his empty promises?" Baptismal vows

he Catholic Church has always viewed the medium of film as a powerful and important means of artistic expression. On November 19,1998, Pope John Paul n addressed a conference on film co-sponsored by the Holy See's Pontifical Council for Culture and Pontifical Council for Social Communications. "From its birth, the big screen.. .is the mirror of the human soul in its constant search for God, often unknowingly," the Holy Father told the conference's participants. "With special effects and remarkable images, it can explore the human universe in depth. It is able to depict life and its mystery in images. And when it reaches the heights of poetry, unifying and harmonizing various art forms from literature to scenic portrayal, to music and acting it can become a source of inner wonder and profound meditation." Since the early days of motion pictures, Catholicism has frequently interested filmmakers regardless of their personal faith. In 1898 Pope Leo XIII allowed himself to be filmed by William K.L. Dickson, the inventor of the motion picture camera and a protege of Thomas Edison. Among the greatest films of all time are those with explicitly Catholic themes, such as The Song of Bemadette (1943), Going My Way (1944), I Confess

Dimitri Cavalli is an editor and writer in New York City. He is planning to write books on both Pope PiusXIIand Joe McCarthy, the late manager of the New YorkYankees.

(1953), A Man for All Seasons (1966), and The Exorcist (1973), which are personal favorites of many Catholics and available on DVD. In recent decades, however, a change has swept through the film industry. For the most part, Catholicism is either ignored or bitterly attacked and disrespected. Fortunately, there have been exceptions, most notably Mel Gibson's international blockbuster The Passion of the Christ (2004). In the past two years, the German director Volker Schlondorff has earned international acclaim for his extraordinary film, The Ninth Day (DerNeunte Tage, 2004). The film was released last year in the U.S., earning many favorable reviews, including from the usually anti-Catholic Afew Yorkerand The New York Times, and drawing audiences at art houses and independent cinemas. The film has been released on DVD in both the U.S. and Canada (the film is in German with English subtitles). Schlondorff powerfully explores the moral dilemmas experienced by a Catholic priest who is sent to the Dachau concentration camp in Germany for the crime of actively resisting the Nazis. During World War II the Nazis deported nearly 2,600 Catholic priests from all over Europe to Dachau. Over 1,000 died. The film begins with the arrival of a new group of prisoners at the camp, one of whom is a priest. He is Fr. Henri Kremer of Luxembourg. Fr. Kremerwas arrested because he belonged to the "French-Luxembourger Resistance" and wrote an article for an underground Resistance periodical that attacked the Nazis' racial theories and reminded readers that Jesus was a Jew. Fr. Kremer (played by Ulrich Matthes) is based on Msgr. Jean Bernard, who was sent to Dachau for participating in anti-

Nazi activities. Msgr. Bernard was permanently released from the camp in August 1942. After the war, he wrote about his experiences for the Luxemburg/ex Wort newspaper. In 1962 Msgr. Bernard's recollections were published in the book Pfarrerblock25487, which was subsequently reprinted three times. Msgr. Bernard died in 1994. The film is loosely based on the book Upon Fr. Kremer's arrival at the camp, one of the guards mocks him, "Praised be Jesus." Not realizing that he is being taunted, Fr. Kremer solemnly replies, "Amen to that." Angered, the guard strikes the priest. Fr. Kremer is housed in the camp's "priests' block" Among his fellow prisoners is the real-life Bishop Michael Kozal of Poland, who later died at the camp. The prisoners are symbolically stripped of their human identities and assigned numbers. Kremer's number is 25639. The Nazis use the priests for slave labor. They work long hours in grueling conditions for little food and water. In the camp, the priests find solace by exercising their faith. They celebrate clandestine Masses in their cramped quarters, fashioning a cross out of spare wire and using their scarce bread for Holy Communion. Fr. Kremer also witnesses unspeakable horrors in the camp. One day, he watches as guards execute a prisoner in a monstrous parody of the Crucifixion. Many scholars and journalists often portray the individual Christian churches, including the Catholic Church, as willing collaborators of the Third Reich. One of the film's strengths is that it shows how the Nazis persecuted the Catholic Church, especially during the war years, and imprisoned priests who refused to subordinate their faith to the Nazi ideology of totalitarianism, paganism, anti-Semitism, and racial hatred. After spending about six months at Dachau, Fr. Kremer is suddenly released without explanation in January 1942. Physically exhausted and nearly emotionally broken by his ordeal, he returns to his home in Luxembourg, where he has a brother, a sister, and a brotherin-law waiting for him. As Fr. Kremer is walking home, he is stopped by two Gestapo agents who tell him he has to report to the local Gestapo office. After seeing his family, Fr. Kremer visits the Gestapo office. He meets a young Gestapo official named Gebhardt (played by August Diehl). Fr. Kremer leams that his release from Dachau was not permanent but only for nine days and that Gebhardt has selected Fr. Kremer for a special mission. He wants the priest, who made a name for himself in the Resistance, to persuade the reallife Bishop Joseph Philippe of Luxembourg to change his

attitude toward the Nazis and publicly support them. Ever since Germany invaded Luxembourg in May 1940, Bishop Philippe has refused to leave his residence and meet with the Nazi occupiers and thus grant them any legitimacy. The Nazis aren't satisfied to keep the bishop silent. They want his active co-operation. In exchange for his support, Gebhardt promises Fr. Kremer that his release will be made permanent and that the other Luxembourger priests will also be freed. If Fr. Kremer flees, however, the captive priests will be immediately executed, and the Nazis will arrest his family. So begins Fr. Kremer's dilemma. Does he compromise and end the suffering of his fellow priests (and himself) by co-operating with the Nazis, or does he uphold his conscience and rejoin the prisoners in the camp and possibly face death? Since Fr. Kremer is unwilling to lend his assistance, Gebhardt must find ways to persuade him. An ambitious young bureaucrat, Gebhardt is courteous, friendly, and quite articulate. Gebhardt shows Fr. Kremer slides depicting Soviet atrocities against the Church and explains how the Nazis are a bulwark against the atheistic Soviet Union. When Fr. Kremer reminds him of the Third Reich's brutal persecution of the Catholic Church, Gebhardt convincingly expresses his revulsion at the Nazis' actions. He attributes them to anti-clerical radicals within the Nazi Party and insists that such measures are only temporary and aimed at politically troublesome clergy. Fr. Kremer, who is still scarred by his ordeal and haunted by guilt over a selfish act he committed in the

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camp, sees no harm with trying to speak with Bishop Philippe (played by Hilmar Thate). But the priest's initial attempts to arrange a meeting with the Bishop are unsuccessful. A frustrated and angry Gebhardt then resorts to more common Nazi tactics, threatening and abusing Fr. Kremer. As the final day of the priest's release approaches, Gebhardt alters the agreement. If Fr. Kremer agrees to sign a statement affirming his support for the Nazis, he will not be returned to Dachau. A former Catholic seminarian, Gebhardt draws on his background in his effort to win Fr. Kremer's trust and co-operation. Gebhardt stuns Fr. Kremer by saying how he considers Judas to be the hero of the Gospels. Had Judas not betrayed Christ, Gebhardt explains, the Crucifixion would never have happened, and mankind would never have been saved. Gebhardt argues that by betraying the Church, Fr. Kremer, like Judas, would ac-

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tually be doing something positive. The film briefly touches on the question of Pope Pius XIFs disputed role during the war. Fr. Kremer is displeased with what he believes is the Pope's inaction and silence. "How many of us have to die before he changes?" Fr. Kremer asks the bishop's personal secretary. In one sense, Fr. Kremer's attitude toward Pius XII is understandable and mirrors that of the exiled Polish Bishop Karol Radonski of Wladislava, who criticized the Pope in his wartime letters to the Vatican Secretary of State Luigi Cardinal Maglione. As was Bishop Radonski, Fr. Kremer is unaware of all of the Pope's wartime activities, such as his repeated interventions on behalf of all of the victims of the war and covert assistance to the German Resistance. In a footnote in his book Christian Resistance to Anti-Semitism: Memories from 1940-1944 (1990) the late Henri Cardinal De Lubac, S.J., wrote, "The secret and daring activity that Pius Xn deployed during the first months of 1940 could be known only gradually in the course of the period after the war.... The Pope had agreed at the risk of compromising himself in direct contact with the German civil and military Resistance (at the highest level) in order to serve as its support before the London war cabinet, and this on two occasions." Historically, The Ninth Day is deficient in several areas. Although it is fair to Pius XII, the film makes no mention of the Pope's communiques or speeches up to that time, most notably his first encyclical, Summi Pontificates (October 20,1939), and his Christmas broadcasts of 1939,1940, and 1941. These addresses and others earned the pope substantial praise in the Allied nations for championing human rights for all people and for condemning totalitarianism, racism, and atrocities against noncombatants. As Cardinal De Lubac shows in his book, the French Resistance circulated the texts of both the pope's addresses and Vatican broadcasts condemning the Nazis in underground pamphlets. (In one scene, Bishop Philippe briefly alludes to Pope Pius XI's March 14,1937, anti-Nazi encyclical, MitBrennenderSorge.) The film's most glaring factual error occurs when Fr. Kremerfinallymeets with Bishop Philippe. The priest repeats his criticism of the Pope. The Bishop responds by noting the tragedy of the Netherlands where the Dutch Catholic bishops energetically protested the deportations of the Jews. The Nazis responded by arresting thousands of baptized Jews, who were previously exempted from the deportations. Bishop Philippe argues if the Dutch bish-



ops' protest cost thousands of lives, a vocal protest by the pope could cost many more lives. But the deportations of Dutch Jews began in July 1942 six months a/terthe events depicted in the film. Harold Marcuse, Professor of History at the University of California at Santa Barbara and an expert on Dachau, created a web page, www.history.ucsb.edu/faculty/marcuse/dachaivVisits/ 04ninthday/NinthDayFilm053.htm, that compares Msgr. Bernard's memoir with the film. (Prof. Marcuse is the grandson of the late Herbert Marcuse, the Marxist philosopher who fled Nazi Germany.) Prof. Harold Marcuse finds that the ''film certainly takes liberties, changing the order of many events...." He adds that Fr. Kremer's dilemma, which is the focus of the film, is based on only a single paragraph from Msgr. Bernard's memoir. The film also neglects one of the most-quoted passages from Msgr. Bernard's book "The detained priests trembled every time news reached us of some protest by a religious authority but particularly by the Vatican," Msgr. Bernard wrote. "We all had the impression that our warders made us atone heavily for the fury these protests evoked.... whenever the way we were treated became more brutal, the Protestant pastors among the prisoners used to vent their indignation on the Catholic priests: 'Again your big naive Pope and those simpletons, your bishops, are shooting their mouths off.. .why don't they get the idea once for all and shut up. They play the heroes, and we have to pay the bill.'" Msgr. Bernard affirmed that the treatment of prisoners in the camp immediately worsened in response to Vatican protests, which makes Fr. Kremer's displeasure with the Pope seem unrealistic. The film's two leads, German actors Ulrich Matthes and August Diehl, both deliver masterful performances. As Fr. Henri Kremer, Matthes shows a tormented and traumatized priest who struggles to uphold the tenets of his faith in the face of enormous pressures and temptations that would probably break most men. Matthes's Fr. Kremer wants to do what is right, but he knows that he is not prepared for martyrdom. Diehl is excellent as Gebhardt, the manipulative Nazi functionary with slicked-back hair who is willing to use any and all means to implement the Reich's policies. Diehl convincingly alternates between "good cop" and "bad cop" in his effort to break Fr. Kremer and the Church. The film's director, Volker Schlondorff, is a Protestant who for three years attended a Jesuit boarding school in France. Schlondorff, who has been directing films since the late 1960s, is best known for The Tin

Drum (1979), a big-screen adaptation of Giinter Grass's classic 1959 novel of the same name. The Tin Drum won an Academy Award for best foreign language film of 1979. For American television, Schlondorff directed the highly acclaimed adaptation of Arthur Miller's play Death of Salesman (1985), with Dustin Hoffmann, and A Gathering of Old Men (1987), an examination of racial tensions in the South, with Louis Gossett Jr. and Richard Widmark. A number of ironies mark the production and distribution of The Ninth Day. In 1990 Schlondorff directed the notoriously anti-religious film The Handmaid's Tale, which was based on the feminist author Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel of the same name. Schlondorff is presently filming Pope Joan, a rehash of the old antiCatholic fable about a female pope who reigned during the Middle Ages and whose existence has supposedly been covered up by the Church. Kino International (www.kino.com/theninthday), which distributed The Ninth Day in the U.S., previously distributed Amen (2002), an adaptation of Rolf Hochhuth's play, The Deputy, which helped give birth to the "Black Legend" of Pope Pius XH in 1963. On the ninth and final day of his release, Fr. Henri Kremer resolves his moral dilemma and finally makes his choice. The film ends beautifully and simply with an act of Christian charity and personal redemption. The Ninth Day should take its place among the greatest Catholicfilmsever made.

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