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film

Leni Riefenstahl

NOW THAT SHE IS authentically dead—at 101, felled by a curse from the ghost of Ernst Jünger, who lived two years longer—Leni Riefenstahl has joined the shades she often conjured during a career of ardor, mystification, and, perhaps, subliminal expiation.

What good would it do to apologize? she asks in the 1993 Roy Müller documentary The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl. Apologies don’t turn the clock back or raise the dead from dust. The sensible tactic, in the face of speeding time and mass amnesia, is to move on and hope that everybody forgets about it. But Leni knew they never would.

The extent, even the exact nature of Riefenstahl’s “guilt” is impossible to quantify. How many people actually joined the Nazi Party after watching Triumph of the Will (1934)? Possibly nobody, despite its reputation as the greatest propaganda film of all time.

Taking the devil’s side, Triumph is

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