Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 18, 2019 8:01 pm 
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Portrait of a post-war whitewash

The Waldheim Waltz is a somewhat pedestrian documentary about the revelations of the UN diplomat, later Austrian chief executive Kurt Waldheim's concealed earlier complicity in Nazi war crimes. They came after he had served - not very effectively, some would argue - as Secretary General of the United Nations, from 1972 to 1982 - at the time when he ran successfully for president of Austria in 1986. The film is concerned with a slow dance, accusations and denials, further accusations and more denials, leading up to demonstrations and an eventual nationalist backlash of Austrian citizens who identified with Waldheim enough so that he won 53% of the vote. They felt his life reflected their own, as citizens of a country taken over by Nazi Germany in the March 1938 Anschluss, and they had to tow the line. The director, Ruth Beckermann, narrates the film.

Waldheim, as we see in many film clips of him in his fifties, the focus period of the doc, was a tall, thin, impeccably dressed diplomat with a cold, blank face occasionally brightened by a forced-looking smile. He admitted that he served in the SA, but said he had no choice; "thousands" were doing it, and he was no different from those thousands, did nothing morally questionable, and was not in any way comparable to Nazi war criminals. But his complicity was of the kind that made the Nazi horror possible.

Showtime Berlin & Beyond:
Wed. March 13, 2019 8:00 p.m.
Goethe-Institut, San Francisco

The Waldheim Waltz/Waldheims Walzer, 93 mins., in German with English subtitles, debuted at the Berlinale in the Forum section. It was shown in over a dozen other international fests including NYFF and the July 2018 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. Austria's official entry to the 2019 Academy Awards. Winner of the Glash├╝tte Original - Documentary Award at the 2018 Berlinale. German theatrical release was 4 Oct. 2018. Screened for this review as part of San Francisco's Berlin & Beyond, March 2019.

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