New to DVD this week: THE DECENT ONE
Vanessa Lapa’s portrait of infamous SS commander Heinrich Himmler made its world premiere at Berlin last year. It went on to screen at Documenta Madrid, DOK.Fest Munich, Planete+ Doc, Jerusalem, Telluride, Bergen, Rio, Reykjavik, Vancouver, and ZagrebDox, among others.
Uniquely constructed around a cache of personal letters and documents discovered in Himmler’s home at the conclusion of WWII, Lapa’s film foregoes outside perspectives to present the life and crimes of the Nazi leader through his own and his immediate family’s words. Beyond the extensive archival period footage employed, the film makes use of voiceover actors to enact letters between Himmler, his mistress Hedwig, his wife Marga, and their daughter Gudrun – while they occasionally over-emote, once the conceit is firmly established, it generally works to provide a candid sense of the administrator’s reprehensible beliefs and self-serving sense of morality. At one moment enumerating his duties in overseeing genocide, and the next sending love letters to his mistress, expressing concerns for the well-being of the concentration camp operators while hand-waving mass murder as a service to racial purity, Himmler presents himself as a master compartmentalizer who is somehow able to rationalize his actions, and those of his party, as inexplicably “decent.” Where Lapa makes a critical error is in doubting the stark power of the archival footage at her disposal – rather than present it undoctored, she instead unwisely employs sound effects and music that gravely cheapens its impact.