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Secrets and Lies

The Cleric and the Clerk Who Turned a Blind Eye

Such revelations were a staple of 1950s West Germany. Syberberg's magnum opus crushingly devotes a full hour to the dis-orientingly detailed Christmas Eve recollections of Hitler's valet. Indeed, Heller and Schmiderer show their subject watching herself and pronouncing her testimony "banal." (Replaying the tape also serves to jog her memory regarding the one time she heard the word "Jew" used in Hitler's presence—causing him to leave the room in a rage and ban his indiscreet guest. According to Traudl, the other word that Hitler never used was "love.") But Blind Spot is not without historical significance. Traudl was with Hitler to the end and, sequestered in the bunker, witnessed the implosion of the Nazi cult. There was no longer day or night, no more regular meals; Hitler went blank; "people even started smoking in his presence." Everyone was discussing suicide. The dam breaks: In a torrent of discourse, Traudl evokes the atmosphere of paranoia, describes the last-minute weddings, recalls the poisoning of Hitler's dog, relives the death of the Goebbels children. She needs no prompting and experiences a sudden anger on recalling how, with his own suicide, Hitler had abandoned them. The survivors had no idea what to do.

That unexpected rage is the movie's most powerful emotional truth. (It is, as Lanzmann demonstrated in Shoah, one way to make the past present.) Traudl died the night Blind Spothad its world premiere in Berlin. Having heard her confession, the filmmakers granted absolution. Her last words in the documentary are "I think I'm beginning to forgive myself."


The Catholic Church stays on the sidelines in Amen.
photo: Kino International
The Catholic Church stays on the sidelines in Amen.

Details

Amen
Directed by Costa-Gavras
Written by Costa-Gavras and Jean-Claude Grumberg, from The Deputy by Rolf Hochhuth
Kino International
Opens January 24, at the Paris

Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary
Directed by Andr Heller and Othmar Schmiderer
Sony Pictures Classics
Opens January 24, at Lincoln Plaza

In the Mirror of Maya Deren
Directed by Martina Kudlacek
Zeitgeist
January 24 through February 6, at Anthology

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Martina Kudlacek's In the Mirror of Maya Derendocuments the life of America's defining avant-garde filmmaker. Maya Deren was born Eleanora Derenkovskaya in Kiev in 1917; she died 44 years later in New York of a cerebral hemorrhage. In the interim, she produced a handful of short films, most in the mid 1940s, that invented both her on-screen persona and social role. Deren used to maintain she made her movies for what a Hollywood production spent on lipstick. The model created by this strong-willed woman persists, as does the influence of her early psychodramas. (Madonna is not the only pop star to base a video on Deren's imagery.) As she appeared in all of her early films, Deren remains a familiar presence—her corona of frizzy hair and exotic peasant dress suggesting a hippie avant la lettre. As these films have no dialogue, however, her emphatic, smoky voice—heard here, among other things, lustily singing the folk song "Stones in My Bed"—is less well known and turns out to have an unexpected resemblance to Lucille Ball's.

Annotating excerpts from the movies with oral history, Kudlacek's film is a well-wrought introduction not just to Deren but an under-leveraged chunk of the art world. Perhaps Julianna Margulies, an actress who resembles the filmmaker, will be inspired to do for Maya what Salma Hayek did for Frida Kahlo.


Related Story:
"Working Girl: Listening to Hitler's Secretary" by Leslie Camhi

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