Film

Spoiler Alert! The Decent One Reveals Himmler Was a Bad Guy

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That “Heini” was Margarete Himmler’s pet name for Nazi husband Heinrich is the most memorable factoid in The Decent One, a biographical documentary that examines the Himmlers’ marriage. By focusing on Margarete and Heinrich’s relationship, director Vanessa Lapa purports to highlight the disconnect between the powerful SS leader’s placid domestic life and genocidal public career.

But the approach proves myopic; by emphasizing home movies and letters, Lapa fails to elucidate her hateful subject’s actions. Actors Tobias Moretti and Sophie Rois read, off-camera, from decades’ worth of Heinrich and Margarete’s letters. Lapa only contextualizes this through intertitles offering a general historical timeline of events. Just before Margarete praises her son Puppi for following “everything Daddy does” on a map, onscreen text explains that Margarete’s letter was written just after Germany invaded Poland.

Most of the documents that Lapa quotes from are, as presented, unrevealing — even offensive. In a characteristically obnoxious exchange, Heinrich reminds Margarete to pay their Jewish contractors to expand their home. After Margarete protests that she “[understands] so little of politics. I prefer revenge! Harsh revenge,” she pouts, “A Jew remains a Jew! Sometimes I worry about how crass those people are.”

Heinrich tries to placate his “charming, cute little wife,” but soon switches gears, and panics about gay Germans: “Our ancestors [only had to deal with] a few cases of this perversion, and homosexuals were drowned in the swamp.” There’s no greater truth to be gleaned from this upsetting exchange, just a lot of unexamined hatred.