With films like "Missing", "Betrayed", and "Music Box", Greek director Costa-Gavras has never been afraid of controversy. But he might have opened his biggest can of worms to date with this inflammatory historical thriller, which asked why Pope Pius XII and the Catholic Church didn't speak out against the Nazi Holocaust.
The film-maker has chosen as his hero the disconcerting real-life figure of Kurt Gerstein (Takur), a German SS officer who was pivotal in the development of the Zyklon B gas used to exterminate Jews in the death camps, a gas he originally created for use on animals. Appalled by what he had witnessed, Gerstein tried to sabotage his own production line while informing the Allies of the atrocities.
"Amen" parallels Gerstein's Schindler-esque mission with that of an idealistic young Jesuit (Kassovitz), who struggles to make the Pope (Iures) speak out against the Nazis. This is not the place to debate the Vatican's role, but Costa-Gavras offers a most persuasive study of its shortcomings - the repercussions of which may still be felt long after his drama has been and gone.
The formal, restrained treatment mercifully keeps the horrors of the Holocaust at bay, but it does make it hard at times to identify with the protagonists. Indeed, the most charismatic character here is also the most hateful - a Nazi "doctor" last seen heading off to Argentina. It's strangely appropriate, though, in a movie where evil seems to have God's blessing.