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SUBDECENT-superJumbo

Source: The New York Times, September 30, 2014

A chilling disconnect runs through “The Decent One,” Vanessa Lapa’s relentless, numbing presentation of letters, diary entries and high-quality period footage that illustrates Heinrich Himmler’s rise from patriotic child to position of horrible power in the Third Reich.

The film’s juxtaposition of Himmler’s correspondence and German history is complex and fluid. His fussy reports about work and his love letters (signed “Heini”) rattle and offend with their untroubled banality. Read aloud in sometimes spirited voice-over by actors, they can instill a feeling of powerlessness before the deadly march of events. As Himmler’s life and an entire nation’s course are charted, the telling details that arise — routine bigotry, the fierce urge to serve, righteous family bonds — have a way of explaining everything and nothing.

Yet this steady stream becomes rough going. Ms. Lapa’s sources, acquired for the making of this documentary, are unusually rich (and their very quantity helps to dramatize the bureaucratic side of Nazi atrocity). But the voice-over-driven readings and the illustrative footage — unwisely augmented with new sound effects — lack a fundamental filmic momentum.

Many freshly haunting and illuminating undercurrents are brought forth all the same — for example, the Himmlers’ consideration of how to treat a child they have adopted. A possibly reassuring note is struck in the credits, which reflect the efforts not only of Ms. Lapa, granddaughter of survivors, but also of Himmler’s own great-niece. —Nicolas Rapold

Further reviews on Salon and Variety

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