By Owen Gleiberman
April 01, 1994 at 05:00 AM EST

The Wonderful Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl

  • Movie

For sheer camera-grabbing magnetism, there isn’t a presence in movies right now who can top Leni Riefenstahl, the aging cinematic visionary of the Third Reich. Eighty-nine years old when Ray Muller’s mesmerizing documentary The Wondeful Horrible Life Of Leni Riefenstahl was shot, Riefenstahl, who’s best known for creating the infamous Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will (and for spending half a century defending the fact that she made it), isn’t just robust. She’s sexy, with curly white-blond hair and a face that beneath its folds and wrinkles retains its youthful contours. An enthusiastic scuba diver at an age when most people are struggling to reach for their walkers, Riefenstahl all but redefines what it means to grow old. And the fascination of Muller’s film is that it reveals how her supernal life force underlies both the pulsating power of her art and the unrepentent amorality that allowed her to make a pact with Adolf Hitler.

Muller takes Riefenstahl back to the original sites of her fame, where, on several occasions, she grows so impassioned that she tries to wrest control of the movie from him. It’s eerie and thrilling to see her stand in the stadium where Triumph of the Will was filmed (it looks oddly inn