"The Ninth Day": Faith in the face of the Holocaust
Special to The Seattle Times
In "The Ninth Day," a Catholic priest faces an ethical crisis that makes "Sophie's Choice" seem like a no-brainer by comparison. It is 1942, and Father Henri Kremer (Ulrich Matthes) has been recruited by a Gestapo officer to persuade Luxembourg's anti-Nazi bishop to capitulate to Nazi occupation.
Imprisoned in Dachau's "priest block" for his dissident stance against Germany, Kremer is a firsthand witness to the horrors of the Holocaust. His nine-day furlough has been arranged by a young SS ideologue named Gebhardt (August Diehl), a former seminarian whose corrupted theology leads him to praise Judas as "a man of action."
Gebhardt desperately needs Kremer's cooperation in reversing Luxembourg's Catholic resistance, and Kremer's decision will determine not only the fate of thousands of imprisoned clergymen but that of his remaining family, as well as his own physical and spiritual survival.
As directed by Volker Schlöndorff, this no-win scenario illuminates the ethical complexities that emerged from the Holocaust, when options often were reduced to the lesser of two evils. No stranger to powerful Nazi-era dramas ("The Tin Drum," "The Ogre"), Schlöndorff presents "The Ninth Day" as a psychological thriller in which Kremer's inward faith and conscience are challenged by Gebhardt's outward ambition and power.
Inspired by the diaries of real-life Luxembourg priest Jean Bernard, the film gains quiet power from the intensity of Matthes (last seen as Joseph Goebbels in "Downfall"), whose gaunt features and haunted eyes make it impossible to imagine another actor in the role. It's no wonder Schlöndorff favors close-ups; with Mattes on screen, "The Ninth Day" gets right to its emotional core.
Jeff Shannon: firstname.lastname@example.org
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