THE WALDHEIM WALTZ. Ruth Beckermann Filmproduktion, Austria, 2018. Original title: Waldheims Walzer. Written, directed and narrated by Ruth Beckermann.

   The best documentaries are often those that sneak up on you, that don’t insult your intelligence or utilize inflammatory footage to get you momentarily agitated and angry. No. The best ones make their points slowly and carefully, meticulously building their case and allowing the viewer to play the role of juror. After all, it’s the job of the documentarian to document. The audience’s role is to deliver a verdict, so to speak, on both the film as a work of art and toward the subject matter of the project.

   And my verdict and that of the movie theater audience where I saw the film, as far as the subject matter of The Waldheim Waltz, is undoubtedly guilty. Guilty not necessarily of a specific action, but a sense of moral culpability, made even worse by decades of lying, obfuscation, and general aloofness and smugness masked by an urbane facade .

   Ruth Beckermann’s documentary skillfully interweaves footage from the Austrian street during an impassioned election season with international news reports to document the controversy surrounding Kurt Waldheim’s run for the Austrian presidency in 1985-86. The question posed by the film is this. Was this man, so admired in the world of international diplomacy and comfortable in Manhattan salons, really not who he said he was? Did the man who proclaimed that he spent much of the Second World War studying law in Vienna really spend those years working for a Nazi war criminal that oversaw the deportation of Salonika’s Jewish population to Auschwitz?

   The film works as a slow boil, steadily building up the heat, culminating in a fascinatingly surreal scene in Congress in which Congressman Tom Lantos, himself a Hungarian Jewish survivor of the Holocaust, tells Waldheim’s son that no one believes the absurd lies propagated by his father.

   But the question ultimately posed by the film isn’t whether anyone believes Waldheim’s fabrications and explanations. It’s whether Austrian voters did in 1986 when they ultimately decided to vote him into office. The film, while touching upon the international scope of the Waldheim Affair, is fundamentally a story about Austrian post-war society and Austrian identity.

   A compelling story, to be sure. But one that only barely scratched the surface of what was, to my mind, one of the most insidious aspects of Waldheim’s career. How was it that a former Nazi ended up not only in charge of the United Nations without anyone seriously looking into his biography, but utilized his position to legitimate Yasser Arafat and the PLO in the eyes of the world?