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Third Reich Filmmaker

June 2024
1min read

The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl

directed by Ray Müller, Kino Video, 181 minutes .

No one interested in World War II should ignore this profile of the German director Leni Riefenstahl, who for six decades has defended the brilliant and notorious film work she did for the Nazi regime. In making this fascinating movie, the director Ray Müller found her as commanding an actress in her nineties as she was in the 1930s German “mountain” films that first brought her Adolf Hitler’s admiration. Her romantic climbing pictures mixed heroism with German fable, and Hitler hired her to do the same for his Party Congress of 1933, resulting in Victory of the Faith —a film Riefenstahl now repudiates on aesthetic grounds—and later Triumph of the Will and Olympia , which remain potent and infamous masterworks. Olympia , her epic tribute to the 1936 Berlin Olympics, produced many of the innovations that made modern sports coverage possible, even while it did the Nazis’ work.

In this new documentary she holds court for three hours while Müller intersperses her autobiographical monologues with scenes from her movies. Like millions of her fellow Germans, Riefenstahl later declared she “didn’t know” of the party’s atrocities. Müller cross-examines her about the Third Reich period but smartly leaves the viewer to judge the full extent of her beliefs. The film’s spark comes from the struggle between these two directors—Riefenstahl wanting to give final shape to her amazing life, Müller not quite letting her off.

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