This movie is based on the life of Saint Edith Stein. She was a German nun of Jewish descent who had converted to Catholicism. Much of her early life was spent as an outspoken academic. There, according to the movie, she feuded with Joseph Heller, a fellow professor with right wing beliefs. In 1933, after Jews were no longer allowed to teach, she became a nun in the Spartan-like Carmelite order. But when World War II heated up, Heller, who had become an important Nazi official, took his revenge. He had her deported to Auschwitz.
An Unforgettable, powerful and a unique story
“The Seventh Chamber” is one of those rare, tiny, indie films that you run into by accident and because its modest budget or unique subject matter never really gets the recognition it deserves. I came to know it because I’ve been an avid admirer of Edith Stein or (as she was known in religious life and the Catholic Church) St. Benedicta of the Cross. It was made via Italy and Hungary and is dubbed in Italian (a minor flaw). It tells the later part of this famous German Jewish philosopher’s life. It concentrates particularly on her conversion to Catholicism and her consequent entrance into the Carmel (a strict, cloistered convent of the Carmelite nuns). These incredibly important decisions made some monumental changes in her life, such as her life-long rift from her beloved mother and the rest of her, very traditional Jewish family. Where she shined as a philosopher, teacher and lecturer, she was failing in her humble duties as a new nun. She was already in her forties when she entered the convent and had to carry on various domestic, physically demanding duties, normally intended for young girls usually entering the order. Feeling isolated, tired, old, lonely and heartbroken over losing her mother, she persevered in her calling. What initially started as a background story, in the second part of the film is masterfully pushed into the foreground: the Hitler party taking over the Germany and the eventual persecution of the Jews. Edith, now in the convent, is still very much aware (and terrified) of this growing hatred and the rising atrocities that will forever change her life. Maia Morgenstern (Mary from Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ”) plays Edith in a bravura, tour De force performance that you’ll never forget. But, the real strength of this film is its vision. It was filmed in a slightly abstract way, not necessary following linear story-telling. Also, while historically accurate, it chose to develop its own style by a ‘free interpretation’ of Edith’s experience. Sometimes this can hurt the film on account of ‘artistic license’. Not here. It respects the facts but by zeroing in on Stein’s possible interpretations, some of them coming from her own writings, and some not. This gives the story a considerable edge and is, simply, staggering in emotions. It is not an easy experience to watch and it is not entertaining in a traditional sense. It was not meant to be, however. The story of this individual, similar in fate to all Jews in WWII Europe, is a heavy, heartbreaking account, no matter what the circumstances. That, in fact, is the story of the film, more than being a narrative biography of a person. Once you see it that way, it will take a life of its own and you will be completely immersed in it and not likely to forget it soon. The films this bold and unique are not being often made. It was never picked up by the Hollywood for its difficult subject matter (the protagonist is a nun) and that’s good because it retained its originality and vision. “The Seventh Chamber/ Room” will touch the deep corners of your heart and psyche, making it a truly powerful, important and simply unforgettable viewing experience.