A review of Leni Riefenstahl’s Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will.
Review Number: 3
Review Date: 30 April 2015
Title: Triumph of the Will (German: Triumph des Willens)
Director: Leni Riefenstahl
Stars: Adolf Hitler, Rudolf Hess, Julius Streicher
Release Date: 1935
Genre: Propaganda Film
“When our party had only seven men, it already had two principles. First, it wanted to be a party with a true ideology. And second, it wanted to be the one and only power in Germany.”
The plane descends. Below, the crowd are gripped by excitement. At last, the Führer lands and makes his way through the streets to the heart of the city. From every vantage point the masses applaud and salute their hero. A spectacle of unadulterated adulation.
Triumph of the Will is the legendary and infamous Nazi propaganda film that set out to create the myth of the party and its leader – Adolf Hitler.
The movie showcases the 1934 Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg, which was attended by more than 700,000 supporters. Over the course of 114 minutes the viewer is bombarded with speeches by Nazi leaders, footage of SA and SS troops, and the predictably positive public reaction.
Director Leni Riefenstahl skillfully uses different camera angles, aerial photography and martial music to weave a spell over a willing audience. On its release in 1935, when nationalism was rife, it all worked so well.
“We want this people to be hard, not soft, and you must steel yourselves for it in your youth!”
Hitler and the Nazis had only recently taken power amid political uncertainty (he was the fourth Chancellor in less than a year), and they were still an unknown quantity in Germany and around the world.
Let’s not forget the country was still smarting from the humiliation of the First World War and wanted a strong leader and party to bring back the glory days. Part of success is having the right timing and Triumph of the Will capitalised on the Zeitgeist.
Some of the visuals are impressive, despite the sinister messages that lie behind them. Aerial shots of soldiers marching in unison, close ups of smiling citizens, the flags and eagles inspired by the Roman Empire, the mass of humanity lined up perfectly at the Nuremberg Rally. Frankly, the opening ceremonies of many Olympic Games are not that different.
Ultimately it is a repetitive sequence of slavish obedience and hatred. It was lauded for its cinematic techniques, but 80 years after its release it quickly becomes tedious. The speeches by the Nazi leaders are dull, spiteful and astonishingly loud. Each individual sees fit to shout like a maniac. Only Joseph Goebbels (the Reich Minister of Propaganda) has the guile to speak calmly.
“It is not the State that orders us; but it is we who order the State!”
Hitler is the centrepiece – his speeches dominate and he revels in the fawning over him and display of power. The constant sycophancy from other party members is irksome – with the ridiculous praise Hitler receives from Rudolf Hess (the Deputy Führer) being particularly embarrassing. The film would have benefitted from astute editing.
But that was always the hallmark of National Socialism and its unpleasant ethos. I picture it as a man shouting the same things at people to obey. No logic or reason. No questions allowed.
The film is banned from being shown in Germany due to its support for Nazism and use of the swastika. But if your interest lies in the Second World War, it is something that needs to be watched. Not enjoyed, merely seen.
Ten years after Triumph of the Will was released, on 30 April 1945, Hitler committed suicide in the ruins of Berlin. Seven days later Nazi Germany surrendered. The war in Europe was over. There was no triumph for the Third Reich. Its will had been broken.