Though it lacks urgency, this documentary about the former Austrian president with a Nazi past feels like necessary viewing
With this grim but necessary documentary, director Ruth Beckermann reminds us just how difficult – maybe even impossible – it is for evil to truly be defeated. Following the successful 1986 Austrian presidential campaign of Kurt Waldheim, The Waldheim Waltz examines the way both the Austrian public and the wider political world chose a wilful ignorance of Waldheim’s past and its close ties to the Nazi war machine and the atrocities that emerged from it.
Waldheim was confident going in to the election, having just served for 10 years as the Secretary General of the UN. It’s a damning fact for the UN, showing a ridiculously lax vetting process; Waldheim’s military service records were found in a public archive by a journalist, confirming his presence during mass Jewish deportations and reprisals against partisans in the Balkans.
Beckermann mostly lets the story of the election play out through archival footage of interviews and press conferences from Waldheim himself, the World Jewish Congress, the Austrian public, and more. This sometimes makes for genuinely fascinating viewing – Waldheim’s furious retreats into antisemitic conspiracy theories whenever challenged leave little doubt as to his guilt – but there is a lack of urgency to the way they’re stitched together, The Waldheim Waltz moving pretty slowly for a 90-minute movie.
A common thread in modern politics is the reliance from public figures on the short memory of both the population and the media – The Waldheim Waltz shows that this is nothing new, and even something as species-definingly evil as the Holocaust can be forgotten if it proves inconvenient. With such a bleak message, there maybe should be more fire to the documentary itself, but it’s still a vital window into a tragically cynical moment of European history.
The Waldheim Waltz is now streaming on True Story.Where to watch