The Decent One (Austria | Israel/IFI/94mins)
Directed by Vanessa Lapa.

THE PLOT: Based on letters and documents found in Nazi Party member Heinrich Himmler’s home, The Decent One shows the private side of one of the most powerful men in Nazi Germany.

THE VERDICT: THE DECENT ONE is an interesting concept for a film, and one that has the ability to show the personal life of a powerful and dangerous man, at one of the most violent periods of recent history. Director Vanessa Lapa dramatises readings from Himmler’s letters and journals, and those of his family and the people around him. What emerges is a man filled with hatred and racism, who seems to genuinely believe that his actions are just and moral. The letters from Himmler’s daughter Gudrun are perhaps as disturbing as those of her father, as she seems indoctrinated into the views of the Nazi Party from a young age, perhaps due to her worship of her father.

Lapa sets the dramatised readings against clips and footage from World War II, which is seemingly intended to give power and weight to the proceedings on screen, but rather muddies the tone of the film. As well as this, adding sound effects and music to silent footage makes the film feel preachy and heavy handed, and distracts from the letters being read on screen. As well as this, while the film gives an insight into the life of Himmler and his family – and while it is interesting to begin with – the novelty of hearing a familiar story through the eyes of one of its perpetrators soon wears off, as the letters, and film, become bogged down in trivialities and fruit cakes.

In all, THE DECENT ONE is a portrait of Himmler through his own eyes. There are times when the film is engrossing and rewarding, but the novelty soon wears off as the letters and journals become humdrum and trivial. Himmler’s racism and hatred are often shocking, but set against stock footage with imposed music, the tone and message of the film become muddied and vague.


Review by Brogen Hayes

The Decent One
Review by Brogen Hayes
2.0Muddied & vague
  • filmbuff2011

    The legacy of the Nazis is something that still fascinates us today, almost 70 years after WWII ended. How could pure evil like that be allowed to grow more powerful before its ultimate demise? Intimate documentary The Decent One attempts to answer some questions about the Nazis, as it’s framed through the perspective of the head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler. Also known as the chief architect of the final solution, which sent six million Jews to their horrific deaths, Himmler kept detailed letters and diaries which were discovered by American soldiers in his home but not handed over to the authorities. Never intended to be published, director Vanessa Lapa has assembled various extracts of these personal accounts to frame Himmler’s perspective on his rise to power. ‘I have seen the horrors of the future’ he says years before the Holocaust. He certainly did, but what made this family man tick? He had a wife and children, yet kept a mistress. His wife called him decent, yet naughty. How could a man like that design the extermination of ‘sub-humans’? Using archival footage mixed with readings from Himmler’s personal accounts and that of his family, The Decent One makes for an intriguing if not entirely conclusive visual poem. The film covers a lot of ground in 96 minutes, going from Himmler’s childhood right up to his capture and then suicide. In covering that much ground, Lapa dilutes the impact somewhat. We only need a few minutes on his background. The meaty stuff is when we get to WWII, but even then it feels a little light. His relationship with Der Fuhrer is never mentioned and how he became the chief architect of the final solution is left unexplained. Some graphic footage of Holocaust victims towards the end does give it some emotional resonance. If Lapa had concentrated more on Himmler during those six, world-changing years that cost the lives of 40 million people, then The Decent One could have been a better film. Instead, it’s just merely a good one. ***