The problem lies, of course, in the fact that by 1944 she still believed in him, still professed innocence of the death camps.

THE WONDERFUL, HORRIBLE LIFE OF LENI RIEFENSTAHL

A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.


"The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl" is a superb documentary that was initially and more aptly called "The Power of Images." It could also have been called "Leni Riefenstahl meets Ray Mueller." In his determination to let the legendary German film-maker speak for herself, the director leads her on a tour of the landmarks of her life and work, confronting her with the contradictions in her life, but resisting the temptation to interrogate. The result stands alone as a visual exploration of the mind and soul of a human being.

Riefenstahl's name is rarely spoken in Germany today, so thoroughly was she connected in the public mind with the Third Reich. Her "Triumph of Will" was a driving force in the glorification of the Nazi Party as it came to power. The rally she filmed in 1933 was still a somewhat ragtag, disorganized group, but she brought to it an extraordinary eye and original camera techniques that bestowed grandeur on a force for evil. She has been punished for that for over fifty years.

Riefenstahl's fascination with the majesty of the human form has been the focus first for "Triumph of the Will," then for "Olympia," later for her photographs of the Nuba tribesmen in Africa. Now in her 92nd year, she is filming the ocean floor herself, returning with predictably monumental images. Prevented by public opprobrium from making major films, she still manages to have her hand on an editing machine or a camera whenever she can.

Mueller's film bores slowly, over a three hour period, to the core of this passion. Riefenstahl has been obsessed by film making since the day she skipped her train to see a movie. Far ahead of any one else in the field, she pioneered the world of images -- directing, leading and teaching the men who she gathered around her. As a study of obsession, this film is riveting.

The world still asks "What did she know and when did she know it?" Riefenstahl denies guilt, insisting that her art was entirely separate from politics. Once asked to film the party rally, she says, she decided to do the absolutely best she could, as any artist would. She adds that in 1933 it was by no means clear that Hitler was evil. The problem lies, of course, in the fact that by 1944 she still believed in him, still professed innocence of the death camps. While her colleagues fled the country, she chose to stay where she was allowed to work.

It is quite true that she made no further films for Hitler, true also that she managed to be elsewhere when needed. But the overwhelming sense of this woman is that she saw what was there and chose to deny it to herself in deference to her own obsession with film. The pity is that one of the world's most brilliant innovators crossed paths with history's most barbarous being and failed to step back. But then that is the nature of obsession.


Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Word Count: 499


Copyright (c) Illusion

Return to Ellis Home Page