Ulrich Matthes, who played Goebbels in Downfall, has concave cheeks and sunken eyes that make his face seem collapsed in on itself. In The Ninth Day, in which he plays Henri Kremer, a dissident Catholic priest held at a concentration camp, his default expression is one of wrenched torment; though Kremer’s pain is palpable, it’s a poor substitute for a moral dilemma that never materializes.
The story, unfolding in dimly lit interiors with the green-tinted murkiness of a scuzzy fishbowl, begins in January of 1942, when Kremer is abruptly granted nine days of leave from Dachau and returns to his home in Luxembourg. There, he meets babyfaced SS officer Gebhardt (August Diehl), who orchestrated Kremer’s release so that Kremer might broker a deal between the Nazis and Luxembourg’s steadfastly anti-Nazi bishop.
Kremer’s vacillation in the face of temptation — will he endorse what he knows to be wrong in exchange for his own well being? — is represented primarily through theological debates between him and Gebhardt, who tries to taunt Kremer into acting out of self-interest. Once lapsed Catholic Gebhardt starts sounding the praises of Judas, though, it’s obvious that Kremer will be too pious to deal with the devil.
A narrative about the search for religious faith during the Holocaust needs to make a convincing case for agnosticism in order to have any suspense; having a zealous Nazi spout Mephistophelian homilies hardly qualifies. Then there’s the matter of The Ninth Day trumpeting unwavering religious devotion as a pillar of moral righteousness in a world turned upside down — could any lesson be less applicable to these fanatical times?
Opens May 27 at Quad Cinema