Hitler as a Human Monster; Andre Heller Talks About "Blind Spot"
by Erica Abeel
Watching "Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary" is a cinematic experience unlike most others. In fact, it's defiantly non-cinematic. In 2001, directors Andre Heller and Othmar Schmiderer persuaded 81-year-old Traudl Junge to sit before a camera and recount her experiences from 1942 to 1945 as Hitler's private secretary. The resulting document offers no cinema-friendly embellishments, no varied camera angles, fast cuts, or exterior shots to boost its entertainment quotient. We see only a talking head, with periodic switches to Junge watching herself talking on video. The viewer becomes an eavesdropper on a combined spoken confessional, reminiscence, and mea culpa. If not for the need to read German subtitles, you might almost be tempted to close your eyes, the better to absorb the impact of Junge's journey.
And it's some journey. Though originally hoping to become a dancer, at age 22 Junge's typing skills landed her a job as Hitler's secretary, work that appeared the career-opportunity of a lifetime. Offering ironic/grotesque details about Hitler, her testimony disturbingly humanizes history's greatest criminal. She remembers her employer as a courtly, if aloof father figure, with none of the public ferocity; a man who disliked physical contact and seemed indifferent not only to love, but anything that didn't serve the glory of Germany. The admirer of classically ideal physiques was embarrassed by his bony white knees. He feared death to the extent he couldn't tolerate the presence of flowers; loved his dog Blondie, yet fed her cyanide to test its efficacy the last day in the bunker. The fascination of "Blind Spot" comes from the knowledge that this woman was there, up close and personal -- at the Wolfsschanze in Obsersalzberg, on his prviate train, and in his bunker. A twenty-five minute single take records the final hours in the bunker as Russian artillery thundered outside. Junge fed bread and jelly sandwiches to Goebbel's children while the Fuhrer had himself shot. Throughout, she proves her own harshest judge, returning to a single question: how could she not have known?
The man filming this woman's tale is the son of a Holocaust survivor, with bitter memories of a father who self-destructed after the war. Heller is also a thorn in the side of the Austrian government's resident anti-Semites and supporters of Jorg Haider. The film's minimalist format is in striking contrast to the exuberant large-scale art works -- including a mammoth Bamboo Man for Hong Kong harbor -- Heller has created throughout the world. Heller shot 26 hours of conversation, in Junge's tiny apartment in Munich and at his villa on Lake Garda, which he and cameraman Schmiderer then whittled down to 90 minutes. Frau Junge died of lung cancer just hours before the film's February premiere at the Berlin Film Festival. From the hospital she told Heller, "I have finally let go of my story. Now I feel the world is letting go of me."
indieWIRE: How did you persuade Junge to film her story?
Andre Heller: [Austrian journalist] Melissa Muller told me she'd met the private secretary of Adolf Hitler, but she'd never related her entire story in public for fear all the old Nazis would come asking for her autograph. When Melissa told me the woman now hated Hitler and couldn't forgive herself for being his secretary, I was curious to meet her.
At first we just talked, with no plans to make a film. I told her my father had been forced by the Nazis to clean the streets of Vienna with a toothbrush. He was a man unable to forgive himself for surviving the Holocaust. And there opposite me was a woman who couldn't forgive herself for having been that na