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Culture

German Protestant Church Gets Behind new "Luther“ Film

A film on the life of German church reformer Martin Luther is opening in German cinemas this week. The Protestant church hopes that the film will introduce a new generation to the religious figure and his message.

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Joseph Fiennes plays the Protestant reformer Martin Luther.

The movie “Luther” has got everything that your average Sunday school class doesn’t—a handsome leading man, a dramatic lightning strike, period costumes, dark, moody landscapes and fair amount of action.

Germany’s Protestant church, which is supporting the marketing of the film which opens on Oct. 30, hopes the Hollywood treatment of church history will spark a new interest among audiences in the period, man and perhaps even the church itself.

“It’s possible that the film is a way to get the Protestant message to a new group of people,” Christof Vetter, spokesman for the German Protestant Church (EKD), told Deutsche Welle.

Martin Luther, who lived from 1483 to 1546, was a German priest and scholar who questioned certain church practices in his day and launched the Protestant movement. He also founded a church, helped standardize the German language and reformed ecclesiastical music.

The movie “Luther,” directed by Eric Till and starring British actor Joseph Fiennes ("Shakespeare in Love") in the leading role, attempts to stuff all of that into a two-hour movie. The film is visually stunning, having been shot on 100 locations in German, Italy and the Czech Republic and outfitted with impressive props, costumes and art direction.

But critics say it suffers both from a lack of vigorous storytelling and in trying to squeeze what could be a ten-hour film into two. In wanting to appeal to non-historically minded, mainstream audiences, it sometimes descends into cheap sentimentality. In the U.S., where the film opened a month ago, “Luther” received mixed reviews.

Go see it!

But according to the German Protestant church, the film is a must-see and it has put its public relations machine into overdrive in an attempt to get German audiences into theaters.

“We welcome the fact that the social upheaval of the Reformation as well as the person of Martin Luther with his thoughts and beliefs is presented in film form in a way that is accessible to a broad spectrum of the public,” Manfred Kock, Council Chairman of the church, said in a statement.

The EKD website offers surfers a smorgasbord of Lutherana, including screensavers, interactive games, the 95 theses, and a personality test asking, “Are you a Luther type?” The church is encouraging religion teachers to take their classes to the screenings and its funding arm is financing part of the flim's marketing in Germany.

“We think the film is beautiful, entertaining and at the same time, educational. It can bring the history of the church into the present,” said church spokesman Vetter.

All the help it can get

The Protestant church would welcome a dusting off its image. For many in Germany’s increasingly secular society, the church is becoming all but a distant memory. Church pews are mostly empty on Sundays and both the Catholic and Protestant churches are losing members annually.

The drain is especially acute among Protestants. For more than three decades, more people have officially left the Protestant church every year than have joined. In 2001, 172,000 people left while only 59,000 became members.

The EKD says it has no illusions that a mere film can reverse that trend, but he does say the church hopes it can start a discussion about church history and its role in shaping German and European history.

“But whether or not a film can awake any new interest in the church itself is a very hard question,” said Vetter. “We’ll probably only know that after the movie has had its run.”

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