Ruth Beckermann dissects Waldheim, Austria and all the disasters that come now





A documentary about the president of the Nazi past crowns the work of the author, honored at Documentamadrid

A scene from 'The Waldheim Waltz', by Ruth Beckermann.

Seconds before entering live, the submissive hand of a man brushes the statesman's suit. Everything has to look impeccable. The politician in question packs his hair, adjusts his vest and clarifies the voice. Everything seems in order. Even the flag of the background is folded and at the same time perfectly visible in a posture so naturally artificial that it will be said that destiny has been placed there. It's Kurt Waldheim just before appearing on TV as Kurt Waldheim. Just a moment separates the cold, meticulous and arrogant man from the affable, protective and even paternal man. Between one and the other half the distance of a simple switch that fractures what is not seen of what is seen. The camera is turned on and everything that seemed like a lie suddenly acquires a firm pulse and clarity of truth. And the reverse.

The scene described is only a moment of The Waldheim Waltz, the last film by Ruth Beckermann (Vienna, 1952), director to whom Documentamadrid pays these tributes in the form of necessary hindsight. The documentary is composed entirely of archival material and is basically nurtured from two sources: on the one hand, the recordings of the director herself when the so-called Waldheim case broke out in the mid-1980s; on the other, the hidden fragments (surprising the indite declaration of the son of Waldheim before the court) or directly broadcast on television during all that the storm lasted.

My idea when I started shooting, remember the director, was not to make a film or anything like that. Simply wanted to record what the official media do not do. Now, with the passage of time, ca in the account of the relevance of all that old material. Basically, the time captured by the director are images obtained in the street by one of the first video cameras offered by the market.

Situmonos. We are in 1985. The man who for a whole decade (from 1972 to 1982) had been a smiling secretary general of the UN was now presenting himself to the presidency of Austria, his country. Suddenly, a journalistic investigation. In his official biography his participation in the Second World War was limited to an accident. He was recruited by the Nazi army as thousands of his compatriots and, after being wounded in 1941, a dense cloud of silence occupied the rest. What came to light is that everything was a lie, or a half-truth, or an interested mistrust. Or all together. His active participation in the deportation to the gas chambers of 60,000 Jews in Thessaloniki was soon known. In March of 1986, the World Judo Congress made public a photo of him from 1943 in perfect and immaculate Nazi officer dress. A simple click and everything changed. By the way, and in case of forgetting, Kurt Waldheim was elected president.

For a long time, the director reasons, the Austrians convinced themselves that they were the first victims of the Nazi regime. It was our way of looking forward: forget everything, leave aside any risk of responsibility or simple guilt. The Waldheim case showed that it was not so and the reaction, consequently, was violent. In effect, the film records with an unusual clarity and urgency the moment convulsive force and key in the history of both the country and the world. But also, and ah, the greatest of his achievements, his lacerating present. The rise to date of the extreme right throughout the east, south, north and east of Europe, from Hungary to Italy through Spain or Austria itself governed by nationalist populism, goes to show that the wound is still open. Since World War II, says Beckermann, there has been an optimistic feeling about the future. That has changed completely. There was an awareness that the children were going to have a better life than the parents. That has been broken. If we add to that the effects of the digital revolution, we have a panorama to a certain extent similar to that which the film portrays.

Somehow, The Waldheim Waltz It summarizes the career of a director who began in the late 70s with a clear vocation for political intervention. His documentaries record strikes and occupations with the idea of ​​always giving voice to those who do not. Subsequently, the collective and personal memory of the Holocaust (daughter of Jewish survivors) occupies the most recognized and recognizable part of his work and voice. His last film retains the character of combative and active testimony while everything becomes a reflection on the subject of cinema. Again, the fragility of memory; again, the guilt of forgetting. As in that amazing image before the image, a single second separates the true from the false; just the moment when the camera begins to register. And it is ah, in that luminous threshold, where the irrefutable work of Beckermann is located.

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