The Decent One
The Decent One is a documentary film propelled by a narrative patchwork of letters, diary entries and documents from the collection of the SS-leader Heinrich Himmler. The trajectory of Himmler’s life, from his early days to the Third Reich’s premature end, makes up the film’s chronology. It compiles footage, both well-trodden and rare, to tell its story.
At first the film’s idiosyncratic use of stock footage is endearing. When it works, it gives the film rhythm, interlinking segments in an ethereal, artistic manner. But it quickly descends into a dry, bland procession of familiarity. The voiceovers vary in quality, and some are unintentionally funny. Overall, little is added to the portrayal of Germany’s rise and decline that hasn’t already been repeated ad nauseam on cable history channels.
The archival footage emphasises the intimacy of letter writing, purportedly demonstrating “the banality of evil”, as Hannah Arendt put it. Moral degeneracy tends to be compartmentalised when ideology takes hold. The righteousness and purity of the in-tribe – built on preservation and self-love – lashes out when faced with threats to its integrity. Some ideological pathologies are clearly more destructive than others (Nazism, a case in point); to paper over differences leads to a fuzzy relativism that currently embodies a spiritual war western man faces today.
Context and relevance appear entirely missing in The Decent One. Why now? In aid of what? As a cultural artefact, how does this fit into contemporary German or European culture? With no convincing answers, this is an insipid, fruitless exercise.
Director Vanessa Zapper, desperately scrambles for objectivity. Her insistence on Himmler’s loving father persona, and name-dropping the mysterious SS organisation Stille Hilfe leaves the viewer concluding that this Israeli production was so determined to avoid being lumped in with what Norman Finkelstein called the “Holocaust industry” that it unintentionally ends up being an apologia for Himmler and his cronies.
The Decent One is released nationwide on 3rd April 2015.
Watch the trailer for The Decent One here: