I think I am the first person from the USA to comment on this film. We saw it as part of the Pittsburgh Filmmakers festival. There were only maybe 50 people at the screening we attended, and there were only two screenings. This is so unfortunate.
This is an excellent film, and exemplifies, I think, the role of the arts in raising society's level of conscience and effecting social change. It galls me that a mind set is growing, (sixty years later) that refutes the occurrence of the holocaust. All the pictures, names and movie footage in the world will never change these people's minds; convincing them is not the issue. But when you take on the large institutions of society, when you make them accountable and demand that they fess up to their inadequacies, and that they not allow it to happen again, then you get the kind of permanent, positive change that is not eroded by a capricious shift in the political winds.
The amazing thing about this film was the powerful effect it achieved with very little, if any, shocking footage. We are conditioned to look away from all the "standard" holocaust images - the drawn faces, the gaunt skeletons, the bones in the ovens, the piles of shoes and personal effects. Instead, Gavras uses Gerstein's involvement with the engineering side of the issue, and paints a chilling picture of the magnitude of the killings. The project management meetings where they discuss the efficiency improvement strategies for gassing people and cleaning out the chambers are eerily similar to meetings I and many other Dilbert-types attend on a regular basis. The final scene at the camp where all the SS facilities officers chorus their concerns over decreased KILLING efficiency is ridiculously chilling. These guys could be whining about their bottom line numbers at a board meeting for any major corporation.
Gavras hammers home the numbers with the repeated scenes of empty trains going and full trains coming - and you never see a person in the full ones, only closed doors. Think about the numbers. A million people a year is nearly three thousand a day. Instead of making his point with stark images, the way so many other films have, Gavras keeps hammering the shear logistics, the size of the camps, the amounts of the gas needed, the HUGE numbers of people that had to be transported. Think of how big a train with a thousand people is - that's over three times the capacity of the biggest airliners. Gerstein's confrontation with his old friend, the transportation officer, points out how people could vilify certain nazis (SS and Gestapo), and yet remain conveniently ignorant of their own complicity.
The Vatican issued a watered down apology in 1998, admitting partial culpability and asking forgiveness. There are still many who believe that the diplomatic tightrope the Vatican walked was the best course. The conversation between Cardinal Maglione and the German ambassador is accurately taken directly from the Vatican archives. But Gavras makes a valid case that the arguments against outing the German killing machine were weak. That other protests had yielded positive results (look up the 1943 Rosenstrasse uprising) and that the motivations for not acting more decisively were based in part on anti-Semitism, along with diplomatic prudence.
Gavras trys to show that many people who could have acted knew all the facts and chose not to act. I remember, around the time Gavras' released "Z", how the protesters at the 1968 democratic national convention chanted "THE WHOLE WORLD IS WATCHING. THE WHOLE WORLD IS WATCHING!" It didn't matter then, and Gavras makes the case that it didn't matter during the holocaust; the political powers of the world move at their own pace.
Now, sixty years later, we have the last of the actual participants dying off. WWII veterans here in the USA are dying at a rate of 1500 a day, and their ranks are dwindling. There are fewer and fewer left to tell the story or be held accountable. It is incumbent on us, however, to uncover the cover-ups, identify the systems or methods that allowed such atrocities to happen, and make the changes in our society's structure to ensure they don't happen again. Gavras' film effectively does this. Like the principals in the film, we now know the real story. Like the principals in the film, how we act with this knowledge will be judged by future generations.