is sort of like watching Hell’s production of A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters, because its correspondents
have certainly earned damnation. Utilizing a cache of previously unseen letters
and documents written by Heinrich Himmler and his family, documentarian Vanessa
Lapa paints an uncomfortably intimate portrait of the Holocaust architect. Himmler
proves just how banal evil can be in Lapa’s The
Decent One (trailer
opens this Wednesday at Film Forum.
U.S. servicemen dispatched to retrieve whatever documents remained in the
Himmler family safe kept them as souvenirs instead. Through some circuitous
route, they eventually came into Lapa’s possession. For a historian, they
represent a wealth of primary sources, but they should not stoke revisionist
fears. Despite Himmler’s conscientious concern for their young daughter Gudrun,
Himmler’s letters to wife Margarete never ameliorate his guilt.
are moments when their domestic business is interrupted by shockingly off-hand
anti-Semitic pronouncements (often on Margarete’s part), but the first half of
the film largely consists of maddeningly prosaic correspondence and journal
entries. Still, when Himmler suggests he and Margarete should number their
letters, it arguably foreshadows his sinister efficiency (but it must have been
a great help to Lapa and her research team).
to be spoilery, but Lapa eventually uses Himmler’s own words to establish his
knowledge and culpability with respects to the Holocaust. Of course, all
reasonable people of good conscience understand that already. She also exposes
the hypocrisy of his outward righteousness through letters to his longtime
mistress, but those are the least of his sins.
the tangential approach of documentaries like Decent One risk losing sight of the big picture’s enormity. Perhaps
this generation really needs a documentary that launches a frontal assault,
overpowering the viewers with the scale and severity of suffering caused by the
National Socialists, especially considering the rise of anti-Semitism in
Western Europe and the Middle East.
film is skillfully constructed and undeniably well intentioned, but it is
unlikely to inspire many epiphanies. It is good that greater historical
background and context is now easily available, but it probably should not be
the first or last film students see on National Socialist crimes against
humanity. Respectfully recommended for viewers who already have a strong
grounding in Holocaust history, The
Decent One opens this Wednesday (10/1) at New York’s Film Forum.
Labels: Documentary, Holocaust, Israeli Cinema