Magazine article Variety

The Waldheim Waltz

Magazine article Variety

The Waldheim Waltz

Article excerpt

FORUM

The Waldheim Waltz

Directed, writer: Ruth Beckermann

Narration: Ruth Beckermann

With Austria currently the only West European nation since World War II governed by the far right, it's time (heck, it's long past time) that someone of Ruth Beckermann's intelligence made a film investigating the country's odious collective whitewashing of its Nazi-era past. In her incisive documentary "The Waldheim Waltz," the director treats former U.N. Secretary General Kurt Waldheim as a poster boy of the phenomenon. Using only footage from the 1970s and '80s, some of which she shot herself while protesting Waldheim's successful bid for the Austrian presidency, Beckermann methodically reveals the timeline of revelations detailing her subject's Nazi affiliations, and how notwithstanding the evidence, a majority of the electorate in 1986 still voted him into office.

If it sounds like a dry history lesson, think again. Thanks to her smart narration - clear, impassioned but never polemical - and the astute way she allows exceptional footage to play out to its full extent, "The Waldheim Waltz" has a sense of urgency made more pressing given political developments not just in Austria but Poland and Hungary as well. Documentary festivals will be the next step, but given how U.S. players led to Waldheim's exposure, a Stateside release of some sort seems in the cards.

While Secretary General between 1972 and 1982, Waldheim was "the man who the world trusts," whose broad smile and expressive hands made people watching feel like he was embracing their causes. There were a few at the time quietly questioning his record during World War 2, but Waldheim stuck to the story that he was drafted into the Nazi army like tens of thousands of other Austrians, was wounded in 1941, and sat out the rest of the War focusing on his studies. Only when he declared his candidacy for president in 1985 did investigative journalist Hubertus Czernin begin digging into the records, where he discovered that Waldheim's claims didn't hold water.

When Czernin's article came out, Waldheim labeled it a smear campaign, taking refuge in the popular argument that Austria was the first victim of Nazi aggression. Like most politicians after the War, he coddled voters with talk of the hard-won ethical and moral rebuilding of Austria following its liberation, ignoring the fact that so many Austrians, still smarting from the country's humiliating diminishment after the first World War, welcomed the Anschluss. …

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