Thursday, October 4, 2012

A One Saint Show: "Maximilian: Saint of Auschwitz" (1995)

As a one man acting showcase, "Maximilian: Saint of Auschwitz" succeeds. As a theatrical experiment, it succeeds. As a film, it almost succeeds.

The film has just one cast member. Leonardo Defilippis portrays four main roles on a closed set. He plays Maximilian, an unnamed friend, the devil, and several Nazis. Other roles are done by offscreen voiceover only.

Maximilian Kolbe was born in Poland and grew up to become a Catholic priest. When he was ten years old, he had a vision of the Virgin Mary offering him a choice of two crowns. The white crown meant goodness for life, and the red crown meant martyrdom. He chose both, and would eventually experience both. Father Maximilian was ordained in 1918, and later contracted tuberculosis. He ministered to those in his sanitarium, despite having just one feebly working lung. He got better, and decided to start a magazine to bring Catholicism to the masses. Nazi power was on the rise as Father Maximilian used a gift of donated land to build a new settlement devoted to the worship of the Virgin Mary.

In September 1939, Poland was invaded by Germany, and the settlement took in refugees, Jewish and otherwise. Maxmilian was sent to a prison for priests in Warsaw, then later to Auschwitz. In July 1941, a prisoner escaped from his cell block. In the now famous story, the remaining inmates were made to stand in the scorching summer heat until the escapee turned up. As many started collapsing and dying around him, Maximilian held his ground. The guards then chose ten inmates to be put to death in the starvation bunkers. Maximilian offered to take the place of one of the ten inmates who had a wife and children. He outlasted five of the ten, and was the only alert one remaining when the camp doctor came into the bunkers to administer lethal injections of carbolic acid.

A problem with reviewing religious films is that a critic must separate the acts of the film's subject from the film itself. A positive or negative review does not reflect on the actions of Father Maximilian Kolbe, it is strictly a judgement on the film itself.

K.C. Lynch does a good job directing what amounts to a one man show. He or she tries to keep the camera moving, but it never overdoes its tricks in order to cover up any boredom that occurs. Leonard Defilippis does a very good job in the myriad of roles he is playing. He changes his appearance and voice enough that I would eventually forget this was the same actor, barring a few scenes here and there. Any drama about Maximilian's vision is lost when Defilippis shows up as a ten year old boy, and the scenes where he plays opposite himself do not work in the least.

Defilippis portrays the devil, then various Nazis as the devil incarnate. Stock footage is used effectively, but I had hoped for a real photograph of Kolbe in order to compare appearances (if any photographs exist). The film does suffer from an overly enthusiastic musical score that literally wells up every time Maximilian is onscreen. Also, in between the interesting points in Maximilian's life are many long monologues that may have read as inspiring, but that quickly make their point and then bore.

"Maximilian: Saint of Auschwitz" is an average film that will make a viewer want to learn more about this man, or at least wonder why a big screen adaptation of his experiences has not been made. (* * *) out of five stars.