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THE WONDERFUL, HORRIBLE LIFE OF LENI RIEFENSTAHL

Germany, 1993 (MIFF 1994, Documentaries)

Director: Ray Müller

Ray Müller's 180-minute documentary is an engrossing, thorough and rigorous examination of the life of Leni Riefenstahl. At 90 years of age and still in full flight, Riefenstahl discusses her controversial career - as a young actor in German 'mountain adventure' films; as filmmaker to the Third Reich and auteur of Triumph Of The Will; as photographer of the Nuba in the 60s and documentarist of the natural wonders of life beneath the sea, since the 70s.

Generously illustrated with excerpts from her films and archival footage, the film probes the circumstances and details of Riefenstahl's life and career. The viewer is simultaneously offered a view of Riefenstahl's unique artistry and aesthetic (captured here in pristinely restored footage, especially on location footage from Olympiad), as well as a revealing insight into one of modern history's most contentious and ambiguous figures. Riefenstahl's account of events differs significantly from those of others around her. The making of the key-work Triumph Of The Will is thrown further into question by the discovery of Sieg Des Glaubens, a 'precursor' to Triumph shot at the party convention the previous year (the existence of which Riefenstahl continues to deny). Legend has it Hitler was attracted to her 'heroic superwoman' image in The Sacred Mountain and entertained her socially on more than one occasion, before she was offered the 1936 Berlin Olympics project.

Müllers' film, the German title of which (The Power Of The Image) is more apt, is both an enthralling study of character and steely ambition, and an argument for Riefenstahl's considerable talents, qualities which have not deserted her still.

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