Director: Vanessa Lapa
Watch The Decent One online in the UK: Curzon Home Cinema
As the world marks 70 years since the end of World War II, a string of films and TV programmes have explored the horrors of the holocaust. None, though, are quite as horrifying as The Decent One.
How does a boy grow up to become the architect of “The Final Solution”? Vanessa Lapa’s documentary follows the rise of Heinrich Himmler in the early 1900s all the way up to his powerful post.
“Horrible night. Cramps. Stomach pain. I was moody and depressed,” the young Heinrich writes in his diary. The extracts are read aloud by actors with a suitably solemn tone, revealing how resentment towards the Jews seems to bubble up naturally. It’s unsettling to hear his anti-semitic comments, which apply to everything from plumbing to prisoners, in letters to his wife, Margarete, not to mention his insistence that their children be told exactly what is going on in the war. Even worse, though, is the way he signs off with the pet name “Heini”.
Herrmann-like stabbing strings play, as he talks about wanting to pick up a machine gun and shoot it at 5.30 in the morning to let off stress. If Lapa’s presentation is sometimes over-done, though, the relative silence that accompanies archive footage is hauntingly effective.
Equally powerful is the use of humour – yes, there is some. One dispute between Margarete and Heini surrounds the purchase of a new car: he wants a shiny Dixi, while she wants a Hanomag. It’s the kind of argument any couple could have and that familiarity only becomes more distancing, as Margarate voices her joy that her husband is finally being recognised and promoted at work.
How does a boy grow up to become the architect of “The Final Solution”? The juxtaposition of everyday human and fascist monster recalls the provocative Eichmann Show, broadcast on the BBC earlier this year. Together, they provide a chilling examination of the banality of evil.