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The East

The East emerges as an exciting piece of filmmaking from the independent scene’s hott —Matt Anderson (review...)

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They say it’s impossible to make a bad movie about World War II. Blind Spot: Hitler’s Secretary illustrates the axiom. Because of the subject matter, this documentary on Traudl Junge, Hitler’s secretary during the last years of his life, is watchably interesting. But if not for the subject matter, this static, unadorned documentary would be (rightfully) left to German public TV.

History’s Blind Spot

Traudl Junge lived and worked in a blind spot
Traudl Junge lived and worked in a blind spot

Lest you think you’ll learn something new about Hitler, know that Junge was his personal secretary, and matters of military or political importance didn’t go through her. She didn’t know the half of what the Nazis were doing to Jews, Poles, and Hungarians. She was only the personal secretary to Hilter. As she says, she was at the source of evil, but she was in a blind spot.

Nevertheless, she offers many interesting insights into the last century’s most reviled figure. For example, she knew Hitler as a human being, not an icon. She recalls that he had a bad digestive system and took pills for “wind.” She thinks he may have been a vegetarian not for moral reasons but for gastric ones. She recalls him saying he couldn’t wear shorts because of his pale-white knees.

But Hitler wasn’t a normal man, and Junge has some stories that show an ego working overtime. He adopted a dog named Blondie, who pleased him most when she showed loyalty and obedience. In passing, Hitler referred to himself as a genius, which put Junge on edge.

A long segment of the movie covers the last days of Hitler’s life. He and his core team, including Junge and two other secretaries, lived in a bunker for about ten days in April 1945. Junge watched as Hitler spiraled down into despair. Because he was their leader, his depression and defeat was contagious. Everyone believed that it might as well be the end of the world with Germany losing the war. He apologized to Junge that his meager farewell gift to her was poison capsules.

Behind Every Great Man

Blind Spot is most interested in presenting these nuggets of information on Hitler, although occasionally the film focuses on Junge herself.

Like other German civilians who lived during the war, she absolves herself to the camera. Like many of them, she had no idea that six million Jews were being killed. But, also like some others civilian survivors, she absolves herself a bit too long, a little too earnestly, and she comes across as having some beneath-the-surface guilt that she hasn’t been able to shed. She died just after this film premiered at the Berlin Film Festival, and her last words to the filmmakers were “I think I’m beginning to forgive myself.”

Wrong Medium for the Message

Blind Spot suffers from a major shortcoming. It is a motion picture, but there is hardly anything visual about the film. The entire 90-minute duration shows Junge talking, always framed in the exact same place on the screen.

Junge speaks German, naturally, so the film is subtitled. I found myself staring at the subtitles, ignoring Junge’s facial expressions. When I made the effort to watch her face, I found nothing surprising or telling. The static visual look was clearly not a bold artistic decision, but a practical one. The movie feels like it was made for historical researchers, and in fact, that seems to be part of the reason the footage was shot.

The raw footage of Junge’s recollections will have great historical value for years to come, but this 90-minute condensation only has limited entertainment value. Her stories are often fascinating, but they lend themselves better to print or radio than to film.