Film Reviews

Underneath the Bunker

Blind Spot offers a long close-up with one of Hitler's intimates

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 Andre 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 Fuehrer 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 premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival, and just days after the publication of her memoirs, In the Final Hours.

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. (It's tempting to ask if this sounds familiar, but very fortunately it doesn't. Yet.)

Considering Junge is perhaps more the point here than considering Hitler. 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 his delicacy, his airs, his warm congeniality toward all his staff, that we get a sense of how warped a mind can become.

If Junge's first-hand recollections aren't always visually stimulating, they're still more illuminating than most cinematic recreations of the era. In Blind Spot, we don't grasp the background of the man who kills his own dog, 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.

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Gregory Weinkauf