June 2011: Leben fuer Leben (Life for a Life)

by June 3, 2011

Before he was Hans Landa, Christoph visited World War 2 earlier in his career. Instead of the German side, however, he played a Polish partisan in Auschwitz, in the film Leben fuer Leben (Life for a Life), a dramatized telling of the sacrifice made by Father Maximilian Kolbe which led to his beatification and sainthood.

Leben fuer Leben is a very strong film and the portrayal of Maximilian Kolbe in the camp was beautifully portrayed by Edward Zentara, with great sensitivity and compassion. Maximilian Kolbe gave his life for a man selected in a group of 10 men to be punished for the escape of another man, and was put into solitary confinement. He prayed and led the group and gave them comfort in their final days. After two weeks he was the only man left alive, and was given a lethal injection. He is considered a modern Christian martyr and his survival for that two weeks, a miracle.

Christoph Waltz played the role of Jan, the man who escaped from Auschwitz. Consumed with guilt and living with the knowledge that his escape cost the lives of ten others including Father Kolbe, he firstly traveled around in hiding from the Nazis, and trying to make sense of what happened after he left. After he found no peace, at the end of the war, he made the decision to go to America. Even in America, however, he was haunted by the Vatican proceedings surrounding Father Kolbe’s sainthood, and the role he inadvertently played in the martyrdom.

While the tale of Kolbe was accurately depicted, the character of Jan was a dramatic fiction. There were, actually, three men who escaped from Auschwitz which led to Kolbe’s martyrdom. However, Christoph did an excellent job of portraying the pain and internal struggle that hung on this man like his own death sentence. To ask someone to carry the guilt of being responsible for the murder of a saint is a hefty order for any actor, and Christoph did a very good job of trying to hide his guilt, carry his shame, and attempting to make sense of an act of freedom that led to his mental and emotional imprisonment.

A heavy film that maintains its’ moody seriousness throughout, Leben fuer Leben benefits from English subtitles for the non-German speakers, however the DVD could use a digital remastering. The subtitles should also be checked for accuracy as in places I questioned the actual translations for accurately conveying the meaning of the dialogue. This film is highly recommended for anyone seeking to learn more about Christoph Waltz’s back catalog especially for non-German speakers who would benefit from the subtitles.

-Sacher

Christoph Waltz Fans