Lacking any narration, the documentary’s dialogue consists solely of the contents of Himmler’s diaries and letters as interpreted by German actors. We hear every facet of his early days and watch him rise from a life of normalcy to become head of the SS. The correspondences depicted are often chillingly mundane, daughters celebrating birthdays, love letters between the young Himmler and his wife. This dialogue is offset by what is happening on screen. Lapa has painstakingly acquired a slew of archival footage consisting of newsreels, amateur home movies and photographs that convey everyday life in the 30s and 40s.
At some times this will mirror what is happening in the dialogue but at others, Lapa’s editorial decisions will take over and and the banality of Himmler’s words will be juxtaposed with something harrowing, just to remind you of what is actually going on. There is something powerfully voyeuristic about hearing Himmler’s words. He rarely talks explicitly about what is happening at the camps in Poland so as an audience, we are constantly straining to read between the lines, to glean a scrap of information about what motivates the perpetrator of one of human history’s most abhorrent crimes. Also fascinating are the letters written by his young daughter. She talks of school and birthday parties, of missing her father and praying for his safe return and an end to the war. Her appearance of youthful innocence is smashed when we learn that since the war, she has remained active among Nazi communities, often working to help former SS members evade justice.
The source material that the film is built around is undeniably fascinating, and anyone keen on this particular chapter of history is sure to gain something from the release of Himmler’s personal artefacts. One wonders however, whether a feature film is the best way to go about presenting this information. The diaries and letters are so starkly presented that anything Lapa adds as a director–a swirl of music or a juxtaposition of images–simply serves to obfuscate the material being presented. The film seems stuck in limbo, not quite rigorous enough to be a historical account, but not nearly exciting enough to be a truly gripping documentary.