• THE NINTH DAY (2004)

  • THE NINTH DAY (2004)

  • THE NINTH DAY (2004)

  • THE NINTH DAY (2004)

Synopsis

The Luxembourg priest Henri Kremer (Ulrich Matthes) is imprisoned in the so-called “Priestblock” (Pfarrerblock) in Dachau concentration camp. Things seem to take an unexpected turn when he is surprisingly released. But this supposed freedom is but brief.  A mere respite from the camp is being granted to him, during which he must render a service to the Gestapo: if he succeeds to persuade the Luxembourg bishop to cooperate with the Nazis within eight days, then he and his 18 fellow inmates will be freed.

If he fails, he must return to the concentration camp on the ninth day, which would mean certain death for him and his fellow sufferers. Within these eight days he meets daily with the Gestapo officer Gebhardt (August Diehl), also a former candidate for the priesthood, who tries to convince him that this is the right thing to do. An intellectual and spiritual battle of faith, betrayal and morality arises between the catholic priest Kremer and the Nazi careerist, highlighting their opposing sides. However it also brings to light common group between the two:  their faith in God.

As soon as he realizes what he has to do, he doesn’t know whether he can cope with that which he knows to be right. That is actually the gripping part: to know what one has to do, without knowing whether one hast the strength to do it.  Only the person that does the right thing in the end, is identical with oneself. (Translated from Schlöndorff 2011, p. 453)

Basis

The dilemma resembles a Schillerian drama without seeming old fashioned. (Translated from Schlöndorff 2011, p. 451).

After a four year long hiatus following THE LEGEND OF RITA, Schlöndorff was eagerly awaiting his next project. Producer Jürgen Haas read in an interview how starved Schlöndorff was for work, and called him up with this film project.

Upon reading the diary of Father Jean Bernard from the Dachau concentration camp (Priestblock 25487: A Memoir of Dachau), Volker Schlöndorff was not only deeply moved by the depiction of horrors but also by Bernard’s sober narrative style. Schlöndorff, initially of the opinion that staged productions could not portray the horrors of the Holocaust, pursued this story further.

Building on the idea of the scriptwriters Eberhard Görner and Andreas Pflüger, Schlöndorff shifts the focus of the film to Bernard’s nine day lave from the camp – a period so briefly mentioned in Jean Bernard’s diary, it barely covers half a page. This marks a noticeable gap in Bernard’s intricately detailed, almost documentary account of events. Schlöndorff attempts to bridge this gap with questions of faith and conscience.

Nevertheless the script is not only based on Bernard’s diary, but also on the autobiographical reports by Primo Levi If This Is a Man? and The Drown and the Saved, which draw on his personal experience in the Auschwitz concentration camps. Through a very factual narrative Levi not only describes the everyday camp life, but also the recurrent feelings of shame he experiences. On the one hand, these are due to the behavior of the SS and the kapos, but also due to his own actions. These fundamental questions that are raised about morality form the backbone of the film adaptation of THE NINTH DAY.

Production and Pre-production

Research

In preparation for THE NINTH DAY, Volker Schlöndorff not only concerns himself with Jean Bernard’s dairy, but also with the concrete historical events, including the ‘Reichskonkordat’, the treaty negotiated between the Pope and the Nazi regime in 1933. This collaboration between church and the Nazis leads to a great moral dilemma for many priests. This doesn’t only entail the courage and strength that is needed to resist Nazi ideology, but also the concomitant rejection of the Vatican’s orders. It was during this time that the so-called “priest block” was formed in the Dachau concentration camp, consisting largely of non-collaborating and non-Aryan Christians. Throughout his research, Schlöndorff’s focus narrowed on the subsequent contention between one’s own conscience and beliefs. How is the Christian faith compatible with Nazi ideology? How could such cooperation be justified?

Here the figure of Judas is highlighted as a key role. On the one hand he is considered a traitor, as the epitome of disloyalty; on the other, as someone who is willing to risk treason in order to serve a higher purpose. This partially portrays Judas in a positive light and gives him more potential to be identified with. Through this examination of the question whether the end justifies the means, the Judas dilemma becomes an integral part of the psychological duel between the priest and the Gestapo officer.

Cast

Schlöndorff finds Ulrich Matthes to be a perfect fit for the role of Abbé Henri Kremer. According to Bernard’s records, this is a man who isn’t a martyr and doesn’t perceive himself as one. Rather, it is about the plausible dispute concerning the moral dilemmas. Before filming began on the 11 November 2013, Matthes was still filming DER UNTERGANG (D 2004), in which he played the role of Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels. He had the struggle of having to simultaneously prepare his role of Kremer. Here he faced the particular challenge of only being able to express as little of his emotions as possible. “I did not want the meaning to be dealt with in the dialogue, only marginally. It can’t be put into words, but actors can express it” (Translated from Schlöndorff 2011, p. 451).

Kremer’s most important opposing player is Gestapo officer Gerbhardt played by August Diehl. Contrary to the frequent portrayals of ‘simple’ and ‘loud’ SS men, he is meant to be the personification of the perfect seducer: handsome and idealistic, tough and ambitious, he tries to corrupt using his intellect, and is thus particularly dangerous for Kremer.

The role of the self-sacrificing sister of the priest, Marie, is portrayed by Bibiana Beglau, who had previously worked together with Volker Schlöndorff on THE LEGENDS OF RITA (D 2000). The Luxembourg bishop, a man with unshakeable convictions, who ultimately doesn’t offer Kremer any help, is played by “a man like a rock, Hilmar Thate” (Translated from Schlöndorff 2011, p. 452).

Shooting

Due to the limiting factors of time and particularly financial resources only few days of shooting are available. Therefore Schlöndorff decides to conduct rehearsals with Ulrich Matthes and August Diehl in Berlin, to practice the scenes of the duel between Kremer and Gebhardt. During shooting later in Prague this proves to serve as good preparation. In retrospect, Schlöndorff found these difficult conditions during filming to work to his advantage, since it lead to radical artistic decisions. These manifested themselves in the numerous close-ups of Ulrich Matthes and August Diehl, where only the slightest of facial expressions can be seen allowing for acting without pathos. The camera thus takes on the role of a subjective observer, “who lacks the strength to maintain an overview” (Translated from Schlöndorff 2011, p. 454).

 

Music

The soundtrack to THE NINTH DAY is by German-Russian composer Alfred Schnittke (* 11.24.1934, † 03.08.1998). Between 1961 and 1984 he composed some 60 film scores, among others AGONY (USSR, 1981; D: Elem Klimov) and THE MASTER AND MARGARITA (RUS 1993; D: Yuri Kara). Schnittke not only worked as a composer of film music, but also wrote numerous pieces for the concert hall, which occasionally found their way into various films. His Concerto grosso Nr. 1 for two violins and orchestra was for instance used in numerous films, including RISE (USSR, 1981; D: Larissa Schepitko) as well as THE NINTH DAY. This piece accompanies the scenes in the Dachau concentration camp. Initially Volker Schlöndorff didn’t want any background music at all: “I though music to be ruled out for the concentration camp. Then I remembered a record that was given to me years ago in Moscow by a friend of mine, Nahum Klajman, director of the Einstein archives. Even Schnittkes widow was surprised at how well this concerto grosso fit to the film” (translated from Schlöndorff, p. 454f.). Together with the portrayal of the camps the music is characterized by its distinct threatening and almost disturbing nature. High string instruments create an atmosphere of unease and appear strange to the audience.

The making of music in the concentration camp itself is also a theme of the film. The seemingly cheerful folksong Wir lagen vor Madagaskar (English: We lay before Madagascar) sung by the clergy men in the “priest block”, reflects the situation that the detainees find themselves in: along with gruesome living conditions and sicknesses, the ‘comrades’ have to expect every day that someone might go ‘overboard’. This is promptly confirmed by the punishing blows of an SS guard, which the clergy men continue singing to.

The quasi-crucifixion of a prisoner is also accompanied by the singing of a hymn, however, interrupted by the threat of a death penalty.

In scenes outside of the concentration camp Alfred Schnittke’s Concerto For No. 1 For Cello And Orchestra is heard, which almost always gives the film a melancholically-depressing mood. The deliberate choice against background music during some scenes leads to this effect.

One exception leads to the most cheerful scene of the film, where Henri Kremer and his sister have a snowball fight, which is accompanied by the contemporary Pop song Frauen sind keine Engel (English: Women are no angels).

Sources:

http://www.frankstrobel.de/texte-von-frank-strobel/alfred-schnittke.html

Schlöndorff, Volker: Licht, Schatten und Bewegung. Mein Leben und meine Filme. München 2008.

Der neunte Tag. Volker Schlöndorff. Deutschland/Luxemburg 2004. Filmheft von Herbert Heinzelmann (bpb).

Reception

Awards and criticism

THE NINTH DAY is shown for the first time at the Munich Film Festival in July 2004. The film was nominated and awarded both nationally and internationally several times, especially at film festivals. Among others, it won the Grand Prix at the Biberach Film Festival, the Grand Prix at the St. Petersburg Film Festival as well as the Crystal Simorgh at the Iranian Fajr International Film Festival for Best Film (in the international competition) as well as the Audience Award of the international films. In Germany it received the German Film Award in category Best Art Direction and was nominated for Best Feature Film.

Moreover Schlöndorff always immediately seeks the debate about the topics of integrity and morality with the audience. So he presented his film at the Katholikentag (Catholics Day) 2004 and in this context discussed the role of the institution of the church. Unlike DOWNFALL (D 2004; Oliver Hirschbiegel), which started playing in theatres two months prior, THE NINTH DAY only reached a fraction of its admissions; TV broadcasters deemed the film as ‘not suitable for television’.

It was brave of producers and editors to embrace it, but it was coward and a disgrace that the TV broadcasters didn’t trust their audience enough, delayed the initial showing for years and then showed it at midnight. (Translated from Schlöndorff 2011, p. 455)

 

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