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Proces w Berlinie (1988 )

The year of the trial is supposed to be around 1973 (date of Sigrid Radke's coerced confession), but the film was shot in contemporary Germany. In a street scene, Gunther X (Sean Penn) walks by a Berlin electronic shop advertising compact disk players (introduced in the early 1980's). Also, Judge Stern refers to the Nurenburg Trials as having occurred "45 years ago", which would refer to the present as around 1990. See more »



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Federal judge Martin Sheen resists pressures of U.S. Department of State

"Judgment in Berlin" (1988) is based on a book written by Herbert Jay Stern about an actual trial over which he presided in 1979 in Berlin. It makes for a compelling drama that brings to light issues that are highly pertinent today and have always been crucial to any government.

For name American actors all in top form, Martin Sheen plays a federal judge who likes to cut through excessive language and sharply hone in on actual facts and ideas. Sam Wanamaker plays the main defense attorney. Sean Penn plays a crucial witness. The core of the movie's dynamics and impact is built around the story itself and these three characters.

The rest of the cast is steady but not exceptional, their roles being less powerful. Harris Yulin appears in support as do Max Gail and Cristine Rose as Sheen's wife. The most important roles in the rest of the cast are filled by actors, German and American, that are not familiar to me.

A Polish airplane bound for East Germany is hijacked and lands in West Berlin. The hijacker is placed on trial in a brand new U.S. court convened for that purpose, with Sheen presiding. The U.S. Department of State prosecutes against the background of its status as an occupying political entity and a NATO convention signed by the U.S. on hijacking. Sheen resists abandoning the procedures of U.S. constitutional rule of law, including trial by jury. He refuses to make the trial an open and shut case.

The crucial issue raised by this movie is the independence of any judicial system from the State. The judicial system and an independent judiciary that adheres to traditional judicial safeguards for any person accused of a crime or breaking a law form a check on the power of the State to dominate its citizens. The independence is fragile, however, because of the close relations between the State and judicial system and because the tradition can be pushed aside by various means, laws, erosion of tradition, mistaken precedents, ignorance and "emergencies".

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