Waldheims Walzer, Ruth Beckermann, Austria, 2018, 93'
What if a politician had lied in their biography and story in an attempt to hide a slanderous chapter from their past? The Waldheim Waltz is a film about truth and lies, the memory of the past, archives, populist propaganda and antisemitism, individual and collective conscience, responsibility and power.
The 1970s: the Austrian diplomat and conservative politician Kurt Waldheim was at the height of his career. An exemplary and successful citizen who had served as secretary-general of the UN, he decided to run for president. However, a complaint from the World Jewish Congress brought everything crashing down: Was there truth about the Nazi past of the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), of which he had been a member? The reaction was the perfect example of the worst form of “political propaganda”: antisemitic outbursts, defending honour on the grounds of patriotism, and unwillingness among the political class to confront its own past. Once again, the political class of a country had shown itself capable of lying to itself. It had been successfully tried during the Second World War, when the political classes presented themselves in official dialogues, books and memories as the innocent victims of Nazism, when in fact an entire generation knew their part in the atrocities. It was attempted again successfully in the Waldheim case (he was elected President of Austria from 1986 to 1992).
Film maker Ruth Beckermann recorded the 1986 anti-Waldheim protests. Thirty years later, her film uses these images as a starting point and draws on international television footage to take a closer look at what happened. The film is partly an analysis of this watershed moment in Austrian political culture. It is an attempt to put that chapter in the political context of the time. Above all, as the director herself has said, the film presents the case not as an example of the past but as a commentary on our present and our future.
“When I re-watched the material I recorded 30 years ago I was really taken aback. Had I really forgotten how easy it is for populist politicians to use emotions in their favour? In this film, I use archive images to try to analyse what went on at the time. However, all the issues and players remain relevant in our time through figures such as Trump, Kurz, Strache and other masters of populism and of false truths.”