Sony // 2002 // 87 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // December 3rd, 2003
The riveting, never-before-told story of working alongside Hitler until his final days in the bunker.
For most people, Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary will be a completely unique experience -- unless, of course, you were fortunate enough to be in Hitler's bunker when the war ended.
For that is where Traudl Junge was. A young woman who had the unfortunate position of being Hitler's personal secretary during the war, this film documents her experiences in the form of a mesmerizing confession.
Riveting, moving, and bewildering, Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary is almost unclassifiable as a film -- it is less a documentary than a bittersweet memoir from an old woman, ransacked by guilt, pouring her soul out for the camera, in a last-ditch effort to find closure in her tormented life.
The end result may not be exciting, but it is something amazing to behold.
Traudl Junge was an apolitical 22-year-old woman who took a job in a clerical pool during the Second World War. In 1942, by a series of unintentional events, she ended up working as the personal secretary to Hitler himself, taking his dictation throughout the war, and traveling in the Führer's inner circle.
In Blind Spot, she relates her experiences spent under the wing of Hitler, traveling in close contact with the highest-ranking Nazi party officials, hiding in recluse in ultra-secret fortresses, attending luxurious parties, and traveling on Hitler's secret train across the country, until ultimately, spending the last chaotic days of the war huddled in Hitler's bunker, observing his final days first-hand as Berlin fell to the Russian artillery crashing around them.
Completed mere months before her death, Traudl Junge speaks out about her experiences and her impressions of Hitler, her experiences, and the chaos that ensued as Germany began to lose the war, as well as her own feelings about her life, her attempt to justify her participation -- however slight -- at the side of a monstrous man.
A few months ago, when I was in Germany, I went to the city of Oranienburg, which is just outside of Berlin, to see Sachsenhausen, one of the first concentration camp established by the Nazis. It housed political radicals, undesirables, homosexuals, and Jews; today, it is a museum and open to the public.
I spent the entire day standing in the wide-open spaces, looking at the barb wire-lined fences, the crumbling guard towers, the bleak architecture, and the burned-down framework of the gas chambers. I have never been to such a place before, a place that has such a palatable feeling of dread, of sadness, of hopelessness.
As I stood there, I realized that I had no understanding of such a place beyond the role of gawking tourist. I cannot understand it in a meaningful way, not like the people who lived and died there understood it, the people who ruled here, and built such a place. Ironically, Traudl Junge had no more understanding of the reality of this world than I did standing in Sachsenhausen almost sixty years later -- and she was in the lion's den.
Traudl Junge, when she took her job with Hitler, was barely my age. I cannot imagine doing the job she did, seeing the things she saw (or didn't see), being so close to something so terrible, and yet, so oblivious. Under the wing of Hitler, in the center of the flow of information, thinking she understood things, shockingly, Junge understood nothing.
Her life was a blind spot; she was unable to see things coherently. All the time, she thought she was in the center of everything, when in fact she was more closed and sheltered than anyone else, because Hitler purposefully sheltered himself and those around him. He lived in a bubble, a microcosmic world, traveling by train through war-torn Germany with the windows shaded.
This realization haunts her as an old woman, and in Blind Spot, she tries desperately to exonerate the guilt that has plagued her for years. The film is vicious in its self-examination. For the entire feature, Junge sits in front of the camera, and talks about her life. There are no archival shots, no wartime photos, no exciting clips of explosions or the like. It is uncompromising in its simplicity. Her guilt is exorcised on camera, and the experience is both terrible and moving.
The film is a combination of three recording sessions -- the firs two, Junge goes into great detail about her life, about her experiences, about her impressions of the war, of Hitler, of the things she experienced. The third session, obviously filmed at a later date, involves an older and shakier Junge, watching the footage of her previous interviews. She pauses her own interviews, and adds clarification, or criticizes her own testimony. This double-interview, or pseudo-commentary, allows Junge to watch the film and comment on her own performance as she sees fit. Her hands flinch nervously as she observes her testimony, stopping occasionally to clarify points, or to reiterate important facts.
In the best example, we see her watching a previous interview, where she goes into great detail and never-ending description of Blondie, Hitler's dog. Words tumble from her excitedly like a waterfall as she recounts all the marvelous tricks he taught the dog to do, and how he would show her off wherever he went. Hitler was immensely proud of this dog. But as she watches this footage, Junge becomes noticeably uncomfortable, and stops the interview suddenly to criticize her testimony. "When I think about it now," she says, "and listen to what I'm saying, all of these little stories sound so banal." She holds her cigarette at arm's length, nervously, as if it would start to accost her at any moment. "I think those characteristics of his, the personal mannerisms he had aren't really at all important now," she reflects, "because the total effect [of Hitler] was so terrible."
I think this is the most magnificent point in the film. Unequivocally, without a doubt, we see that Junge liked Hitler -- I mean, actually, truly, and genuinely liked the man. She makes no excuses for him; she fully admits his inherent evil, and the terrible atrocities that he set in motion -- and yet, somehow, despite the inherent contradictions, she still remembers him fondly as...as what? A father figure? A mentor? A kind and benevolent employer?
This is the crux of Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary. She makes few apologies, she asks for no forgiveness, and yet these contradictions eat away at her soul. These contradictions are important to her, despite the anxiety. She knows she should not be relaying such trivial anecdotes about such a monstrous man; but she cannot help herself from doing exactly that. Her hands shake, her voice cracks. These things, these tiny details, have been important to her, because they protected her. They are her justifications, her blinders, and her silent and private excuses.
This is the story of a woman, not the story of Hitler, and as such, we learn very little about the man outside of Junge's adoring anecdotes. The most memorable, by far, involves the last days in the bunker, with Eva Braun and Hitler, hidden away in tiny rooms, listening to the bombs explode above, Junge taking his final dictations.
When there was a break in the shelling, she explains, Eva Braun and herself would venture above ground, where it was springtime, and bask in the sunshine. Once, Braun noticed a beautiful statue of a nymph beside a fountain. "She was so impressed," Junge explains, "that she went back into the bunker, and said to the Führer, 'You know, there's a statue up there...and if you win the war, I'd like you to buy it for me'.
"And then he said, 'But I don't know who it belongs to. It's stolen property.'"
This is the closest we come to an insight into the mind of a madman -- the deliberate extermination of an entire race of human beings is acceptable to Hitler, but the notion of stealing a statue from state property is unthinkable. It boggles the mind.
A note about the scoring of this film: to me, this film captures the heart, the essence, the spirit and soul of a human being. There is no story, no script; there is no acting, no performance to gauge and criticize. These are her words, and we are privy to her life. So, theoretically, the story and the acting should either receive a perfect score, or a flat zero. Myself, I prefer the former.
Visually, the film is simplistic and functional. There are no moving shots, and the quality of the image is quite satisfactory. There are very few specks of dirt or other film abnormalities, black levels are acceptable, and the sharpness of the image is very respectable. Frankly, there is not much to see in this film, but this DVD does an excellent job of showing it.
Likewise, the sound is equally as respectable. Junge's voice comes through clear and her dialogue is always sharp and well balanced. There are no sound effects, soundtrack, or other noises to speak of -- just a single voice, though the quality of the recording changes depending on the recording session; the footage of Junge watching her previous interviews sounds noticeably poorer than the primary footage. The occasional scrape, or bump, or rustling of papers can be heard in the background, but this is not detrimental to the final presentation.
There are no significant extras to speak of, which is fine; the film requires little supplementary material. It is a rare example of a barebones DVD release that admirably stands on its own.
Be forewarned: this is not an exciting film. An elderly lady sits immobile, in front of a camera, for almost ninety minutes, and talks in German about her life. There is no music, no break, and no alleviation from her presence. We never see a cameraman, an interviewer, or anything else (though we hear a question or two asked by an unknown interviewer). Unless you speak fluent German, be prepared for uninterrupted subtitle scrutiny.
The film is unquestionably compelling, but I must be clear on one point: this is the story of a woman's life, and nothing more. This is not a seedy exposé into the private life of Hitler, or the clandestine confessions of a top-ranking Nazi. There are no stunning revelations, no detailed descriptions of wartime atrocities.
Many would call this film "boring," or "dull," or worse. I would not, of course, but one should be prepared for what one gets into.
Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary is a DVD unlike any other. As a film, it is both beautiful and unique. It is an affirmation of life and existence, and the last testament of a dying woman at the same time. The DVD is bare, but it looks and sounds great, and needs nothing in the way of supplementation.
It is a film worth seeing, without any doubt. You may get nothing out of it, or you may find it illuminating and profound. But either way, it is worth seeing.
There is no real reason for anyone not to see Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary. Go rent it. Don't make the court come over there and judicially whip your arse.
I've got a gavel, man. I'm not afraid to use it.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (German)
Running Time: 87 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Theatrical Trailers
* Official Site