by Jonathan Mahalak

Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary

dir. Heller

Opens Fri April 11

Cinema 21

In terms of being visually stimulating, Andre Heller's Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary is a far cry from most documentaries dealing with historical subject matter. PBS and History Channel specials cram in plenty of cuts, jumps, and stock footage to keep their material from becoming too dry, and while it's a shame that history must be packaged to meet the present cultural standards of attention span, damn if it doesn't spice things up. With Blind Spot, however, the Austrian director challenges that notion, settling on a film comprised almost entirely of a medium shot of Traudl Junge, who elaborates on her experience as our imaginations flutter unfettered. On the whole, this style-less aesthetic choice serves the film well, though on a strictly watchable level, it can feel flat.

Junge, a woman of 81 at the time of the filming, was recruited at age 22 to work as Hitler's personal secretary, a position she held from 1942 until the Furher's suicide in 1945. (Beforehand, he even dictated his last will and testament to Junge.) Throughout the course of the film, she reveals details from the National Socialist leaders' day-to-day existence--from his love for his dog to taking meals with her and the other office girls--which culminates in a vivid and teary recount of the war's waning days inside the secret bunker. Though she denies membership in the Nazi party--and uses her isolation throughout the hot years of the war as an excuse to not have known the full story of the Holocaust--it's clear she blames herself for her obliviousness as a young woman. She still hasn't forgiven herself.

As we watch her tell stories selected from some 10 hours of interview footage, we see guilt and pain in her eyes as she lights cigarettes and looks back into the reaches of her mind. In fact, despite numerous propositions, she had refused to speak publicly for 60 years, until Heller convinced her to talk. (Presumably, the now-deceased Junge discovered she was dying and agreed to be filmed.) Blind Spot is a haunting, unsettling, and valuable undertaking--it reminds us that the horrors of war extend in many directions.