Review: ‘The Seventh Chamber’

Edith Stein Maia Morgenstern Rosa Elide Melli Auguste Adriana Asti Franz Heller Jan Nowicki Paul Glovanni Capalbo Erna Ileana Carusio Elsa Iwona Budner Jakoh Ryszard Lukowski Hans Jerzy Radziwilowiez Sister Giuseppa Anna Polony

Edith Stein Maia Morgenstern Rosa Elide Melli Auguste Adriana Asti Franz Heller Jan Nowicki Paul Glovanni Capalbo Erna Ileana Carusio Elsa Iwona Budner Jakoh Ryszard Lukowski Hans Jerzy Radziwilowiez Sister Giuseppa Anna Polony

A last-minute inclusion in the Venice fest program, allegedly to mark the occasion of the World Conference of Women in Chia, “The Seventh Chamber” is a well-meaning but uninvolving tribute to the remarkable Edith Stein (1891-1942), a German-Jewish intellectual who embraced Catholicism and eventually entered the harsh world of a Carmelite nunnery from which she was taken by the Nazis to perish in Auschwitz.

“There can be many intepretations of her life: This is one of them,” states an opening title, but, sadly, it isn’t a very imaginative one. On a commercial level, this has little to offer outside narrow niche markets, one liability being the trully dreadful lip-synching for the Italian version.

Stein grew up in Breslau, Germany, and became an important academic at the university there, though she fell foul of a fellow professor, Heller, whose right-wing rantings she publicly repudiated. She horrified her mother when she decided to become a Catholic, and for a while was estranged from her family. With the outbreak of war she unaccountably decided to join one of the most dictatorial and rigid monastic orders, the Carmelites. She suffered terribly during training before finding a serenity, only to be removed by the vengeful Heller, now a prominent Nazi, to the concentration camp.

All this should be moving, but Magyar director Marta Meszaros lacks subtlety in her handling of the classic tragedy, and overemphasizes every detail in case the audience doesn’t get it. Jan Nowicki, who has worked in many Meszaros films in the past, gives one of his least subtle performances as the nasty Nazi, and Romanian actress Maia Morgenstern, last seen playing multiple roles in Theo Angelopoulos’ “Ulysses’ Gaze,” has little to do here but appear stoical. Adriana Asti briefly impresses as Edith’s grieving mother.

Pie’s main asset is its look. A Polish team, led by cinematographer Piotr Sobocinski and production designer Halina Dobrowolska, has done a fantastic job on what appears to have been a limited budget. Moni Ovadia’s music track, mostly composed of traditional Jewish songs, is also noteworthly.

The Seventh Chamber

(ITALIAN-HUNGARIAN-FRENCH-POLISH)

Production

A Morgan Film Sri (Rome)/Budapest Film Studio (Budapest)/Eurofilms (Paris)/Film Studio TOR (Warsaw) co-production, in collaboration with RAIUNO. (International Sales: Sacis, Rome.) Produced by Francesco Pamphili. Executive producer, Cabriella Lazzoni. Directed by Marta Meszaros. Screenplay. Meszaros, Eva Pataki, Roberta Mazzoni. Camera (Technicolor), Piotr Sobocinski; editor, Ugo De Rossi; music, Moni Ovadia; production design, Halina Dobrowolska; costumes, Elzbieta Radke, Malgorzata Obloza; sound (Dolby SR), Marek Wronko; assistant director, Zoltan Jancso. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (noncompeting), Sept. 4, 1995. Running time: 114 MIN.
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