In Review: The Decent One on DVD

by Tony Griffiths on 16/04/2015

Coming to DVD just over a week after its limited cinema release, The Decent One is in many ways even better suited to the small screen. This unsettling documentary – a portrait of SS commandant Heinrich Himmler created from previously unreleased letters and telegrams – is an intimate, insidious journey into the horrors of the holocaust, and one that is all the more disturbing for its understated presentation.

Narrated almost exclusively in the words of Himmler and his family, it’s only once the film unfolds that the sheer extent of the material at director Vanessa Lapa’s disposal becomes clear. From diary entries as an insecure yet politically minded adolescent, through love letters to his wife Margarete and mistress Hedwig, to some particularly chilling correspondence with Nazi subordinates during World War Two, this is very much a man laid bare. That this man should go on to become the ‘architect’ of the Final Solution makes the piece all the more extraordinary.

The plodding, chronological unveiling of the earlier exchanges, particularly between Himmler and his wife-to-be, make for an at times mundane opening third. But it is this refusal to sensationalise – restraint which Lapa judges almost to perfection – that gives the inevitable transformation its power, and by the time Himmler’s increasingly unapologetic efforts to justify his methods unfold over challenging footage of concentration camp atrocities, the contrast with his playful, even cutesy, earlier tone and sense of nobility is complete.

However, while The Decent One is undoubtedly at its most pertinent showcasing the attempts of a man (and his family) to rationalise brutality for the greater good (the film’s title derives from Himmler’s belief in being “decent, courageous and kind-hearted”), many of its peripheral insights also resonate. The young Himmler’s routine recollections of World War One Germany, as well as those of Margarete and daughter Gudrun decades later, provide fascinating insight into the wartime experiences of ‘ordinary’ German citizens refracted through propaganda.

In hindsight, some of the more bombastic parts of the score seem overplayed, as does the voice artist’s pantomime interpretation of Himmler’s younger self, but these are minor blips in an otherwise smooth trajectory to monsterdom. And while the absence of deeper, external analysis probably stops The Decent One achieving true masterpiece status, it’s no real distraction in an otherwise compelling study of human evil.

Tony has awarded The Decent One on DVD four Torches of Truth

4 torches

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: