This documentary recounts the life and work of one of most famous, and yet reviled, German film directors in history, Leni Riefenstahl. The film recounts the rise of her career from a dancer, to a movie actor to the most important film director in Nazi Germany who directed such famous propaganda films as Triumph of the Will and Olympiad. The film also explores her later activities after Nazi Germany's defeat in 1945 and her disgrace for being so associated with it which includes her amazingly active life over the age of 90.Written by
Kenneth Chisholm <firstname.lastname@example.org>
A glimpse of the German soul as well as a documentary
In this year that Bowling For Columbine -- an unapologetically political and controversial film -- has won the Oscar for best documentary, the story of Leni Riefenstahl and her work seems very timely indeed. This engaging montage of primary and contemporary interviews with her, together with samples of her oeuvre beginning in the era of silent film, accomplish precisely what a documentary is designed to do. Director Mueller spares no effort to uncover his subject's motivation, even as he focusses on the history and nature of her art.
There is some irony at work here. We see a very German director attempting to dissect thoroughly the life and craft of another very German director. Not that there is any comparison to be made between the subject matter of one to the other, but when Riefenstahl takes Mueller to task for his filmmaking style in drawing her out, we cannot help but find delight in it. And his bit of eavesdropping on her between takes is priceless.
Far from the perennial films about the Holocaust that portray Germans as something less than human, this documentary offers ample evidence that genius and human frailty are universal and far from mutually exclusive attributes in all sorts of people. But if one may deduce anything at all about the nature of the German soul in contrast to that of, say, a typical American, the life of Leni Riefenstahl as offered here stands out vividly by example of first one and then the other seemingly contradictory characteristic. She was after all the "nice" girl who stayed home and played patriot while Marlene Dietrich was the "bad" girl who betrayed her country. One can almost smell the cordite in the air during their related encounters.
Much is made of the fact that Ms. Riefenstahl protests too much. Indeed that is a complaint one hears often about Germans who lived through the Hitler epoch seeing nothing, hearing nothing. But that surely begs the question, considering that it was and is a nation of eighty million descended from a vast cross section of central European races, including uncounted geniuses, saints, and criminals alike. If there is anything uniquely German about such a pose, it is only that they tend to be meticulously accurate in everything they do, whether for good or evil. The most annoying thing about Germans is their uncanny zeal in trying to find exact words that reflect logical and complicated reasons for everything -- including their own behavior. Under that circumstance, it is but a short step to denial once no easy answers appear.
As a bilingual viewer of this documentary, I had the benefit of second-guessing the subtitles as well. Some were wildly wrong, and none could capture the tonal nuances, the careful phrasing, and the subtle interplay between Mueller and Riefenstahl as they parried one another's verbal thrusts. While far less original and profound than the master's work being discussed, Mueller did a very creditable job here.
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