Berlinale Bloggers 2018
Our Berlinale blogger Gerasimos Bekas went to see Ruth Beckermann’s The Waldheim Waltz (Waldheims Walzer), despite his initial qualms, and highly recommends seeing it, but in the right company.
By Gerasimos Bekas
Things you should avoid doing on an icy winter morning in Berlin: getting up, going out and watching movies about Nazis. I give it a try anyway, steeling myself first with two double espressos – in a cup I’ve brought along, naturally. Then a chinwag ensues at the café with an Italian film crew. The cameraman says I look like some famous actor. I don’t note the name because that sort of thing is never true anyway and then you’re disappointed. Though it does sound like a compliment. Off to the cinema.
Perpetrators and victimsRuth Beckermann, who was an anti-Waldheim activist herself in the 1980s, has taken on the Waldheim affair and put together a documentary essay using archival footage as well as her own material. Not only does she produce an evocative portrait of Kurt Waldheim, but she also reveals the mechanisms of a society all too willing to reverse the roles of perpetrator and victim.
During the 1940s, Kurt Waldheim fought against partisans in the Balkans, held high-ranking posts in northern Greece and Athens and was partly responsible for the deportation of Greek Jews. Waldheim subsequently went from serving as a Nazi officer to serving as UN Secretary-General and, in 1986, President of Austria. More than forty years after the war, his Nazi past, which he had by and large kept secret till then, became a campaign issue in Austria, though he was elected president all the same. In December 2018 Waldheim would have celebrated his 100th birthday if he hadn’t died in 2007.
Fascism is a traditionNo, that wasn’t news to me. And yes, I’m in a bad mood all the same. This is a documentary film set in the 1980s. I can’t simply walk out and act as though the issues addressed in the film are things of the past. There will always be Waldheims, men distinguished by an appalling combination of opportunism and effrontery. “I was respectable,” is their mantra, and that seems as perfidious as implausible.
Ultimately, the film reveals one thing above all: inhumane ideologies have a long-standing tradition, the way they think is not a new development of recent years, but ingrained in society and comes out of the woodwork in certain configurations. Beckermann by and large holds her fire in the film, though her attitude is clear: with 30 years’ hindsight, she is trying to figure out what was actually going on at the time. Waldheims Walzer is a powerful film because in 93 minutes she drives home how historical amnesia feels. So I recommend seeing it only with people you love – and getting drunk afterwards together. Currywurst helps too.