Already at the beginning, the sinister naiveté of Leni Riefenstahl's Beauty, given full fairy-tale format complete with leather-bound storybook. The geological pantheism is out of Arnold Fanck, but the mammoth slopes under Riefenstahl's fevered lens are even more ominously photogenic, Nature's challenge to mere mortals -- Christ-like martyrs are sculpted in rock to honor the village men who, hypnotized by the blue light emanating from atop Mount Cristallo every full moon, got lured to the precipices. Only raggedy mountain girl Junta (Riefenstahl), in a sleepwalking trance, reaches the peaks, reason enough for the townsfolk to tag her "witch" and form stoning mobs whenever she's around; earnest painter Mathias Weimann comes to her defense and ditches town for Junta's outdoors paradise, although the idyll together is extinguished as soon as the well-meaning clod locates the crystal mine at the top. Practically an universe away from the grime of Weimar crisis, Riefenstahl's Dolomite landscape is both etherealized and eroticized -- the phallic heights of Mount Cristallo can only be conquered by true female innocence, while tragedy comes through male invasion of a hidden cave. Locals lend their lifeworn mugs, but the camera is more interested in inhuman perfection, the volume of mist adorning low-angle vistas, and Riefenstahl's own physical splendor, lingered over profile and close-up. Her vision of beauty is one of pre-civilized purity, alpine vastness and animals hardened into mystical tableaux via ponderously ravishing composing and lighting, utterly untainted by the messiness of chance or human feeling. Her sparkling sanctuary violated, Riefenstahl's wild-child plunges to the depths below -- a commentary on the fragility of visual grandeur, or self-eulogy for the oppressive seamlessness of the filmmaker's mise-en-scčne? Next stop, Nuremberg, for the answers. Written by Riefenstahl and Béla Balázs. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce