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No matter what sort of personality a documentary develops, there should be a primary goal: make the content address both intellect and heart - something that broadens our knowledge about a person and the popularity of a person. This documentary directed by David Riva, the celebrity's grandson, succeeds in this task to a great extent. Marlene Dietrich, one of the greatest stars of cinema, a German born actress who won the hearts of world audiences is introduced to us in a heartfelt manner. In what way does she still mesmerize us? Not merely as a movie star but as a person who proved to the world the existence of another side of Germany and another voice of people within the monstrous times.
Although many of the star's fans refer to Maximilian Schell's unique MARLENE as a supreme documentary, I tend to say that this one is equally important and interesting to consider because of significant aspects developed. While MARLENE highlights Maximilian Schell's meeting with the aging, reluctant star and may sometimes occur restricted to Marlene's greatest fans (due to its momentary chaos), MARLENE DIETRICH: HER OWN SONG becomes a clear and an insightful consideration of her personality, her own life, her own 'song,' her own 'screenplay.' This is not so much a documentary about a movie star, about her roles, this is a documentary about the person she truly was: no 'goddess of the screen' cold and unavailable but a woman who did not hesitate to give something of herself to others, to console the soldiers, help them stop the cruel time for a while, supply them with entertainment within the horror of war and perform for them even in the hardest circumstances; a woman who was not afraid to address the public, her public she loved. And that is what I like about this documentary: it focuses on the broader consideration of Ms Dietrich's personality and not so much on her disguises, masks people wear when they are not themselves.
The people being interviewed either knew Marlene personally being her own family or worked with her during her Hollywood career. They supply us with some absorbing pieces of information that we would not find elsewhere. I mean, in particular, her own daughter Maria Riva whose memories are filled with undeniable appreciation of her mother as a person and Hildegard Knef, actress, Marlene's lifelong friend. A great deal of time is dedicated to her relationship with the actor Jean Gabin and his biographer Andre Brunelin also reveals specific facts helpful for Ms Dietrich's fans. The content highlights WWII times, which address the very core of Ms Dietrich and her true character revealed in those times. She did not accept the reality of war, she did not talk for countries but for the people, simple soldiers. I think that this aspect is most memorable about her being most humane and appealing to our emotions. Her songs become symbolic in this context.
Another plus of the documentary is the very clear presentation of the celebrity's background, her upbringing, her youth in the Berlin of the 1920s and the influence of Josef Von Sternberg, indeed an iconic 'persona' in her life. The dawn of her career at Ufa and the first great role in DER BLAUE ENGEL are discussed by Nicholas Von Sternberg, the son of the director who considerably influenced the way the Berlin's 'Maedel' (maid) later became. The archive test footage of 1929 appears to be one of many surprises here. Besides, we find some convincing references to the roles of the films she played in and the reactions in the society (particularly MOROCCO). It is a pity that her post war career is not discussed in more details with exception of JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG (1961). There is no mention of such an important director as Alfred Hitchcock with whom Marlene worked on STAGE FRIGHT. He referred to her in his memorable words: "She is a professional"
As a Pole, I must add a note about Marlene in Poland. It is a touching moment to see the footage of her performance in Warsaw in 1966 and see her thank the Polish nation for their courage during WWII. Thank you, Marlene!
"Sag Mir Wo Die Blumen Sind..." (Tell me where the flowers are) has become one of her most popular songs addressing our true feelings without unnecessary sentiments. It has become an anti war song, a song that raises a loud voice against its cruelty and horror. This was perhaps the most genuine feeling that Marlene left to us in her long life. 'Where are the flowers?' she asked. Was it just a coincidence that there was a flower market in her hometown on the day she came back home for good? Or a little gift from destiny for the screenplay she wrote with her own life?
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