Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington



From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302


Media Watch
‘The Ninth Day,’ ‘The Family Stone,’ ‘Syriana’

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the Jan. 12, 200 edition of the Inland Register)

DVD Review

One day last summer I was at a gathering at Bishop White Seminary when a visiting Chicago priest mentioned a powerful German movie that was shown at the Chicago priests’ retreat. The film told the story of the ethical conundrum of a priest in Nazi Germany.

In September, a friend in a Jesus Caritas prayer group said the film, The Ninth Day, had been shown at the Jewish Film Festival in Spokane, when I had been out of town. I later learned that this film, directed by Volker Schlondorff (The Tin Drum), would be out on DVD Dec. 6. A week or so later I began a hunt for the elusive film that would either be rented, or sold out, or no longer available from the warehouse. Finally I found a bookstore that would order it and I received it the end of December.

The Ninth Day is an extraordinary religious film that, in my opinion, should be available in every parish for viewing by older teens and adults.

The short interview with the director on the DVD extras tells us this is a true story based on the diaries of a priest from Luxembourg who spent years in the priest section of the Dachau Concentration Camp.

Father Henri Kremer (Ulrich Mattes) was sent to Dachau for opposing the Nazi regime and joining the Resistance. After we see some of the horrors of the “Priest Block,” the film tells us that that Father Kremer is to be sent back to Luxembourg with the task of convincing his anti-Nazi bishop to capitulate to the Nazi occupation. The priest has nine days in which to accomplish this. If he tries to escape, his brother priests at Dachau will be killed. If he fails to convince his bishop to acquiesce, he must return to certain death in the concentration camp, and his relatives will be in danger.

If he succeeds, he is free.

The brilliant sequences between Father Kremer and the local Gestapo officer, Gebhardt (August Diehl), are the key to the film. Gebhardt also was a seminarian and quit two weeks before ordination. The give-and-take between protagonist and antagonist is chilling and unforgettable.

Gebhardt’s argument is that, in order to save us, Christ had to have a Judas, so to be a Judas is to do good.

I had the opportunity to visit the Dachau camp memorial in 1972 and it was one of the truly moving moments of my life. This majestic film of moral choice within a very wounded world is one of the most hopeful movies I have ever seen.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting rates The Ninth Day A-III – for adults. There is no rating from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).

For more information or to order The Ninth Day you may phone Kino on Video at (800) 562-3330, or use the internet at contact@kino.com. The retail price is $29.95.

Movie Reviews

If there was ever a movie I should enthusiastically like, it would be writer-director Stephen Gaghan’s new drama Syriana, with its story ripped from the headlines of the Middle East.

I like contemporary stories about the social problems of our day. I loved Crash, which had a similar fragmented, multiple-narrative script. Crash showed us lots of wounded people in Los Angeles. It had beautiful acts of human goodness in the midst of a tragic world.

Syriana is a dark world of corruption at the highest levels of government, business and in the lives of all the principal characters. But Syriana’s world is totally nihilistic. I sure couldn’t find much goodness in any of the characters. There doesn’t seem to be any room for redemption. Even if you do try to do something for the common good, someone in the Middle East will be killed by a missile unleased by an anonymous person pushing a button at CIA headquarters in Virginia. With not even a glimmer of hope, why waste your time on this movie?

The plot of Syriana is so fast-moving, taking place at what seem to be 30 or 40 different places around the globe, the best you can do is to ride with it and hope to get partial understanding of what is going on. Also, I don’t have a clue what the title has to do with the movie. I must have missed a very fast sentence said by one of the hundreds of characters.

The basic story revolves around two merging oil companies that have reserves in the Middle East. Hundreds of poor workers are let go and soon find themselves in radical Muslim schools, ready to commit violence. There are government investigations of the merger.

At the same time, Bob Barnes (George Clooney), a CIA agent, is concerned about a missile that has gotten into the hands of some bad guys. Matt Damon plays an energy analyst living in Switzerland who, through a tragedy to his own family, becomes an advisor to a Prince Nasir (Alexander Siddig). The prince is organizing a coup against his brother, who is in the pocket of corrupt United States oil interests.

The quick MTV-style edits, which cut from one short scene to the next, make it hard to follow the story. The acting is admittedly very good. If you see this film, I would suggest waiting to summer so that you have a chance to walk in the sun after viewing it. Syriana is way too depressing for the short, dark days of winter.

The MPAA rates Syriana R – Restricted (under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian) because of strong language and violence. The USCCB’s Office for Film and Broadcasting rates Syriana A-III – for adults.

*****

The Christmas movie that had me laughing more than I have in months, if not years, is The Family Stone. I admit it is a creaky plot a la A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The physical comedy is sometimes way over the top. But for interesting characters that are at times smug and prejudiced, there is also lots of admitting one’s failures and a sense of reconciliation.

Sarah Jessica Parker as Meredith Morton is very tightly wound. Her hair is pulled back harshly and she wears dark and dreary clothes. Parker, whose career goes back to the title character in the Broadway musical Annie, carries the film. Her change from controlling executive to a fun-loving free spirit comes too fast, but it is delightful.

Among the males, Luke Wilson as Ben Stone stands out as the laid-back son who sees through the externals of a person to the goodness beneath. Spokane’s own Craig T. Nelson is perfect as the patriarch. Diane Keaton is both lovable and exasperating as the mother of the Stone family.

The Family Stone is one of those entertaining movies you know you are being manipulated in, but sure delivers enjoyment. I have to admit I enjoyed it so much I saw it twice.

The Family Stone is rated PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned – by the MPAA. The language is a little colorful. The USCCB’s Office for Film and Broadcasting rates The Family Stone A-III – adults.

(Father Caswell is archivist and Ecumenical Relations Officer for the Diocese of Spokane, and a frequent contributor to this publication.)


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