Im Toten Winkel - Hitlers Sekretärin
directed by André Heller & Othmar Schmiderer
by Bill Chambers A significant source of Blind Spot. Hitler's Secretary's power is the au naturel form it takes. There are no re-enactments, there are no such visual cues as photographs or stock footage; there isn't even any underscore--only the talking head of Traudl Junge, who, with her rotating cluster of sweaters and ascots, is the film's aesthetic. Directors André Heller and Othmar Schmiderer (Heller interviewed, Schmiderer shot) either believe Junge to be so compelling a presence as to challenge the need for newsreel aids, or fundamentally appreciate that they risked depersonalizing Junge's fresh, intimate perspective by going the History Channel route. I only skimmed the press notes (which are rather regrettably written: "Like Adolf Hitler, [Heller and Schmiderer] were also born and raised in Austria," begins an introduction to the filmmakers) to keep from cheapening Blind Spot's enigmatic approach--that ambivalence--for myself: The film casts a spell as fragile as that of an ILM spectacle.
Junge, detained in Russia for a period at the end of World War II before finding work as a magazine editor, treats the unseen Heller like a priest; one might say that her regret drives the piece, resulting in not a lurid film about Hitler (which has disappointed those critics out for something pulpier), but a deathbed confession. (Junge passed away last year.) Punishing herself for going off on "banal" tangents that conjure vivid images of Hitler's squalid bunker (Blind Spot's structural conceit finds Junge judging the playback of comments she previously made), she recounts in linear detail the beginning of the end, so to speak. Quoting the moment wherein Junge says that to be Hitler's secretary--an automaton, not a confidante--was to live oblivious to his master plan ("Every explosion has an area of calm," Junge expounds), the title Blind Spot thus describes an absolution: The film becomes a platform by which she can purge herself of the guilt she has carried with her since learning of the Holocaust sometime after the war.
Junge's account of Hitler's last days, constituting Blind Spot's final third, unfolds in an entrancing, unbroken take. She speaks oddly wistfully of a period of limbo that accompanied the creeping realization that victory was beyond Germany's grasp. Meals became a time for dispassionate discussion of effective methods of suicide, while an increasingly paranoid Hitler had taken to executing loved ones with alarming frequency, including his dog. Junge remains angry that Hitler and his new bride Eva Braun chose to kill themselves together, an act she perceived then as one of abandonment (her own raison d'être was meeting the Führer's needs), but "now" resents for its cowardice. Junge emerges from this closing passage a Henry Hill figure unsure of how to resolve her youthful nostalgia with her youthful naiveté, though we are assured in a post-script that her last words to the filmmakers were, "I'm starting to forgive myself." Winnowed down from ten hours of raw material to a crisp ninety minutes, Blind Spot is a stark yet heartbreaking documentary possessed of astonishing restraint. Originally published: February 28, 2003.