Kurt Waldheim served as Secretary General of the United Nations from 1972 to 1981 and was later President of Austria from 1986 to 1992. The Waldheim Waltz is a new documentary by Ruth Beckermann about Waldheim’s campaign for that Presidential election.
Although one may think that a film about a 20th-century Presidential campaign in Austria would not be relevant to society today, that could not be further from the truth. In fact, the film is perhaps more important today than ever. Waldheim’s campaign was characterized by controversy, predominantly surrounding actions in the candidate’s past. Does that sound familiar?
Yes, in the era of Clinton’s email controversy, numerous Trump scandals, and Kavanaugh’s yearbook debacle, this film serves as a cautionary tale about the nature of politicians. For one, it shows that this type of smear campaign has been going on for longer than we imagined, but always with the same result. However, perhaps more importantly, the film shows that these politicians believed to have committed heinous acts can “waltz” around their past into power.
The story of the film is truly fascinating, as Waldheim’s career goes from being a massive success (essentially the face of the entire free world) to a near total disaster, all because of allegations made against him. The specifics of the allegations make the film even more captivating, as they add a level of ambiguity to the film. Throughout the film, the audience is allowed to decide the morality of Waldheim’s actions and whether or not he was fit to be in power.
That being said, the film does begin to lose some steam at times. The film’s introduction is very powerful and impactful, and this carries over throughout most of the runtime. However, towards the end of the film, it becomes repetitive almost to the point of redundancy. This causes a brief faltering of interest, although the film quickly recovers to be far more involving.
The execution of the film is phenomenal. It is one of the best-edited documentaries to be released in a long time, largely due to the film’s use of sound. The score is wonderful, often giving the film a feel akin to an espionage thriller. Additionally, the film’s use of diegetic sounds is worthy of note, as it resulted in some of the film’s most impactful moments. For example, early in the film, you can hear protesters shouting “Waldheim nein! (No Waldheim!)” repeatedly. This was quite harrowing and effective at showing the impact of the controversy.
Overall, The Waldheim Waltz is a very interesting documentary. It is a short, brisk watch with a great story and relevance to today’s political climate. If you get the chance to check this one out, you should.
The Waldheim Waltz opens in select theaters beginning October 19.