BySophie Atkinson, writer at
Sophie Atkinson

Once upon a time, had his heart set on making a biopic of the life of controversial Nazi propaganda filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl. The German director's best known work is the propaganda piece, Triumph Of The Will (Triumph des Willens), which chronicles the 1934 Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg.

While the content of Triumph is indisputably repugnant, the propaganda flick is widely acknowledged to be a feat of filmmaking brilliance and Riefenstahl has been recognised as being one of the greatest female filmmakers of the 20th century despite her implied politics. All the same, for obvious reasons, no studio would touch Soderbergh's project with a bargepole, so Soderbergh and his Leni Rifenstahl biopic scriptwriter, , abandoned the project and went on to pitch Contagion which got the nod.

A couple of years ago, Soderbergh opened up a bit more about the script, which was never intended to be for a straightforward biopic:

"[Scott] and I were working on it and I thought we had an interesting take on it which was: to see if we could make the audience root for her and treat Hitler and Goebbels as like the studio heads and treat her as the aggrieved artist who is being held back by Phillistines and to really flip the thing upside down," he explained. "The job is not to judge your characters, your job is to present their point of view as they would want it presented so I thought, 'Wow, that would be interesting if you could somehow over 90 minutes convince somebody to root for someone who probably on some level was pretty horrible."

More recently, while speaking with NPR, Soderbergh elaborated further on how the story would have played out on screen.

"And so the movie at no point leaves her point of view, or delves into any of these moral questions at all. The whole design of the movie is that you are rooting for her to win. And the film ends with her onstage after the premier of 'Triumph of the Will' with people throwing roses at her and she's beaming," he said. "And that's the end of the movie. Now, what we realized after we solved this sort of creative problem was no one would go see this."

...Right. But why would Soderbergh want to make the movie in the first place?

"I wanted to just be inside of her point of view," Soderbergh said. "...And so to me, it - the questions are there for the audience. They don't need to be there for her."

It sounds pretty horrible, but I think that it would also serve as a fascinating experiment - mainly because I like the idea of films functioning in the same way Kafka hoped literature could work:

'I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we are reading doesn't wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? ...we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.'

What could be more of an 'axe' than a biopic about a Nazi filmmaker ending on her beaming at her adoring public? Especially as that's an artistic decision, not the way things actually played out - Riefenstahl was banished from the filmmaking world for the rest of her life after Hitler's defeat* after being roundly denounced as a Nazi, despite numerous attempts on her own part to get funding for new films, so a happy ending for Riefenstahl is pretty perverse and perhaps intended by Soderbergh as a way of shocking an audience that is relatively desensitized to the events of the Second World War by the sheer abundance of films set in concentration camps or on the battlefields.

What do you think? Should the film be made, or is the content too morally disgusting to warrant a place at the cinema?

*Tiefland (1954) was shot in 1940-1944 and financed by Hitler.


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