Film Reviews

Bunker Mentality

Adolf Hitler killed his own dog. Most of his other evil is well-documented now, and words alone are inadequate anyway, so let's begin by considering this comparatively microscopic offense. For the many who shower their canines with at least as much affection as they offer other human beings (and often more), the horror of the act should be obvious. This guy fed poison to his loyal, beloved, long-term golden retriever, Blondi. Here we have a comprehensible level of human wickedness.

Thanks to André Heller and Othmar Schmiderer's documentary Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary, you don't have to imagine this man. The project's subject, Traudl Junge, has plenty of stories to tell about Der Führer as a human being, and just so there's no misunderstanding her sentiments and comprehension of history, she begins by calling him a "monster" and an "absolute criminal." The 81-year-old Junge died in February 2002, just hours after this project premièred at the Berlin International Film Festival, and just days after the publication of her memoirs, In the Final Hours. ("I have finally let go of my story," she told Heller. "Now I feel the world is letting go of me.") After nearly six decades of harboring these memories, which she never previously released to the public, one experiences here Junge's long-overdue catharsis.

Those coming to this series of interviews seeking revelations about the Nazi regime may find themselves a trifle disappointed. This is portraiture, the tale of a fatherless, naive girl named Traudl Humps who accepted a position as Hitler's personal assistant in 1942 and worked earnestly beside him until his suicide at the war's end, even taking dictation of his last will and testament. We learn of the girl's devotion indeed blind, as was most of Germany's and, perhaps most disturbingly, of how one man with impeccable manners managed to catalyze a nation's hatred and focus it, while simultaneously perverting a collective conscience.

The decades have put significant distance between Junge and Hitler, so this is not a showcase for emotional outbursts. Her elegant visage maintains an almost preternatural sense of calm, as if she's carried this baggage to the point of utter familiarity and woeful acceptance. Still, there's no dearth of humanity as she admits her shame and horror she married a Nazi who soon died in battle, and briefly considered herself one, but at the time scarcely comprehended the atrocities being committed in the name of her chosen political party.

Even in subtle, minimalist frames set in Junge's tiny apartment in Munich, she's a fascinating subject. Obviously, though, the real power of the project much as in Menno Meyjes' recent, fictionalized Max comes from reflecting on Hitler as a mortal man, albeit one gone about as wrong as ever was possible. It is in Junge's careful recounting of Hitler's delicacy, his airs, his warm congeniality toward all his staff, that we get a sense of how warped a mind can become, and how shielded from reality high political offices may be.

In cinematic terms, there's virtually nothing here to discuss, as this is strictly an interview piece, suited as well or better to television or video. Basically, Heller and Schmiderer change angles a few times, Junge dons a few different outfits, and astutely the subject is occasionally shown reviewing her own thoughts on videotape, the better to correct or extrapolate upon her recorded notions. On the big screen, it might have benefited the audience to see a few stock glimpses of Berlin or Hitler's "Wolf's Lair" retreat, but clearly, Heller, whose father was a Viennese Holocaust survivor, wanted to focus solely on this one face, this one voice.

If Junge's firsthand recollections aren't always visually stimulating, they're still more illuminating than most cinematic re-creations of the era. In Blind Spot, we don't grasp the background of the man who kills his own dog, let alone get anywhere near sympathy for the devil, but we do receive a lasting impression of one of history's most demented souls and a young, hopeful spirit who just wanted to believe in something. Junge castigates herself for her terribly misplaced faith, but also reflects upon Hitler's comforting reassurance that, "You can't possibly make as many mistakes as me." It appears from this production that those words, in an expanded context, eventually brought her comfort and release.