The Statement (5/10)

Copyright © 2003 by Tony Medley

Last year Michael Caineís schtick was the anti-American The Quiet American, which blamed everything that happened in Vietnam prior to the fall of Dien Bien Phu, on the United States, even though that was Franceís war and there were very few Americans in Vietnam. This year itís The Statement, which is virulently anti-Catholic.

After the Nazis conquered France, France was divided into two parts.  One part, headquartered in Paris, was governed by the Nazis. The other, headquartered in Vichy, was governed by French, headed by Marshall Petain. The Vichy had their own police, called the Milice, which was responsible for the suppression of the French Resistance and the enforcement of Nazi race laws. In The Statement, Pierre Brossard (Michael Caine) was a young officer in the Vichy Milice who was responsible for the deaths of seven Jews during World War II.

In present day France, Broussard is living the life of a fugitive. He is protected by a shadowy clique in the Catholic Church, known as Chevaliers, as well as some former Vichy friends, some of whom who have become powerful political officials. However, as the film starts Broussard is also being targeted by someone for assassination.

At the same time, Judge Annemarie Livi (Tilda Swinton) takes over as the third investigator trying to find Broussard, and she obtains the aid of Colonel Roux (Jeremy Northam). They also recognize that someone is trying to kill Broussard, and all indications point to Jews to exact vengeance. The daughter of a mixed Jewish-Catholic marriage, Annemarie is intent on discovering who it is in the Church that has been protecting Broussard all these years. As Broussard is hiding from both his assassins, Annemarie is doggedly on his trail.

Based on a novel by Brian Moore, which was based on the true story of Paul Touvier, who was the only Frenchman to be convicted of crimes against humanity, The Statement is an involving chase film. Broussard is a religious fanatic, but he kills quickly and without hesitation. Caine, after sleepwalking through The Quiet American, does a good job of creating Broussardís complex character.

Unfortunately, the film is perniciously anti-Catholic in the way it shows Catholic clerics sheltering Broussard and emphasizing Broussardís religiosity. No mention is made of the heroic efforts of Catholic prelates to save Jews from Nazi persecution in Vichy. The filmmakers ignore Archbishop Saliege of Toulouse, Bishop Theas of Montauban and Cardinal Gerlier of Lyons, the Primate of France, all of whom made vehement protests. Bishop Theas was imprisoned. Saliege's pastoral letter, The ďBombe Saliege,Ē banned by the Prefect of Toulouse, was still read in some 400 churches. The Vichy government warned that if churches or monasteries hid Jews they would be forcibly captured.

And how about Father Marie-Benoit? He organized a forging operation to make hundreds of identity cards, baptismal certificates and other forms of identification for use by Jews. He and other Capuchins arranged for Jews to be secretly transported from Marseilles to Spain and Switzerland. This went on for so long that groups left regularly twice a week. But that wasnít all. They organized several other rescue centers in the city.

But he was not alone. Catholics protecting Jews became so widespread that in 1943, the Vichy government arrested and deported 120 Catholic priests who sheltered Jews. Director Norman Jewison apparently felt there was no need to mention of any of this. And thereís never any explanation as to why all these clerics were protecting Broussard, including a Cardinal. The audience is left to think that the Church is universally corrupt. This film contains not one positive depiction of a Catholic cleric. To show such a negative attitude without any mention of the heroic efforts of many members of the clergy shows to me a corrupt intention to leave a lasting negative impression about the Church.

Catholics should not be defamed by glib Hollywood moviemakers who refuse to recognize how many of them were persecuted and killed by the Nazis, and how many of them risked their lives to save Jews. When is Hollywood going to make a movie about people like Father Marie-Benoit? Apparently thereís no interest in saying something positive about Catholic actions during World War II. Instead, Hollywood makes films like this, attacking the Church and relying on fiction as a defense. The Church is such an easy target. Anti-Catholicism is the left wingís anti-Semitism. Say something nasty about any politically correct group and it will never be forgotten or forgiven. But itís open season to malign Catholics with impunity.

I hated the anti-Catholicism in this movie, for two reasons. The first is the blatant, narrow-minded, ignorant, malignant bigotry involved. But the second is that itís a good, entertaining movie. I enjoyed every second of it. But do I want to recommend people to see something that ignores all the Catholic clerics who risked their lives, and died, trying to save Jews during World War II and, instead, defames the Church by a biased generalization? No. So my rating is mixed. If youíre a fair-minded person, itís a 5. If you shut your mind to the anti-Catholicism, as I was actually able to do, you should find this enjoyable. If youíre anti-Catholic or donít care, itís an 8 or 9.

December 6, 2003

The End