THE WONDERFUL, HORRIBLE LIFE OF LENI RIEFENSTAHL Not rated, 1993, color and black-and-white, in English and German with English subtitles, 183 minutes, Kino Home Video. Her dimples are still firm, her giggly smile and coquettish poses hardly changed from those of the starlet who captivated Hitler and Goebbels so many years ago. At 91, Leni Riefenstahl, creator of what Pauline Kael called "the two greatest films ever directed by a woman," is finally ceding a morsel of control, permitting director Ray Mueller to make a three-hour documentary on her strange and fantastic life. But only a morsel: Although Mueller proudly speaks of the "terrible interrogation" he imposed on his subject, it is Riefenstahl who easily gains the upper hand here. For the longest time, she says with a glorious smile, she had no idea who Adolf Hitler was, and even after she started making the movies that would deify the Fuehrer and set the standard for propaganda and political advertising to this day, Riefenstahl claims to have been ignorant of National Socialism and its aims. "It's all so long ago, I don't even think about it anymore," she says. There is little overt confrontation with the great German director's political past in this fascinating film, but there is a wealth of research -- remarkable footage from "Olympia" and "Triumph of the Will," as well as from Riefenstahl's acting years, her lesser films and her remarkable geriatric adventures in underwater photography (rather too much of the last). When the documentary played in Germany, it was a revelatory event: Few Germans had ever been permitted to see even a short clip from "Triumph of the Will." For American viewers who can get their fill of Nazi footage on the Discovery Channel almost any evening, this is instead a riveting, if frustrating, window on a great artist in her last, powerful fight to salvage her reputation.
-- Marc Fisher/Washington Post
PASSIONE D'AMORE Not rated, 1981, Italian with English subtitles, 117 minutes, Kino Home Video. Ettore Scola's "Passione d'Amore" is as maddening and compelling as the stage show derived from it, Stephen Sondheim's Tony Award-winning "Passion." The disturbing plot, in which a young cavalry officer abandons his lush ladylove for the homely and sickly Fosca, is almost exactly the same in both film and musical, and poses the same problems for the audience. The story is presented as a fable about spiritual vs. physical love: Though the young officer (Bernard Giraudeau) is initially repulsed by Fosca (the rivetingly ugly Valeria D'Obici), he succumbs to the magnificence of her passion for him. But the manipulative, clinging Fosca doesn't have much of a spiritual side. There's no inner beauty to triumph over the outer ugliness, and when the officer responds to her, he seems masochistic and peculiar. In previews of "Passion," audiences laughed at Fosca's scenes. "Passione d'Amore" is less inadvertently ridiculous because Scola emphasizes the morbid possibilities in romance -- the movie is full of images of death, and D'Obici's skull-like head suggests the vampire count in the great silent film "Nosferatu." But the director is fighting the story line. When the officer succumbs to Fosca's deathbed charms, it's not convincing, just creepy and unsatisfying. Still, there's something about the movie -- you can't laugh it off. It gets under your skin.
-- Lloyd Rose/Washington Post
(1) Clear and Present Danger (Paramount). (2) Timecop (MCA-Universal). (3) Natural Born Killers (Warner). (4) True Lies (FoxVideo). (5) The Lion King (Disney). (6) Color of Night (Hollywood). (7) It Could Happen to You (Columbia). (8) Wolf (Columbia TriStar). (9) The Little Rascals (MCA-Universal). (10) The Mask (Turner).
(1) The Lion King (Disney). (2) The Mask (Turner). (3) The Little Rascals (MCA-Universal). (4) Snoop Doggy Dogg: Murder was the Case (WarnerVision Ent.). (5) Beavis & Butt-Head: There Goes the Neighborhood (SMV). (6) Beavis & Butt-Head: Work S----! (SMV). (7) Four Weddings and a Funeral (PolyGram). (8) Little Giants (Warner). (9) Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (Disney). (10) Penthouse: Swimsuit 2 (WarnerVision).