Victory of Faith
(Der Sieg Des Glaubens) (Leni Riefenstahl, 1933)
Considered lost for nearly seventy years, Leni Riefenstahl’s Victory of Faith, is again available to viewing audiences. A key work in the evolution of Nazi propaganda, Victory of Faith provides an ambitious record of the 1933 Nazi Party rally at Nuremberg. Released in early 1934, the film was enthusiastically promoted by the Nazi Party as a masterful promotional tool in presenting itself to the German people. Later that same year, however, Hitler oversaw a bloody purge of many of his “old comrades,” notably the Brownshirt leader Ernst Röhm, whose leading role at the 1933 rally – second only to Hitler – figures prominently in Riefenstahl’s film. Overnight, Röhm became persona non grata, and all references to him were obliterated from the public record. As a result, the thousands of prints of Victory of Faith in circulation across Germany were tracked down and destroyed. But just as the Nazi regime was eradicating memories of its 1933 celebration, party leaders were preparing for the next Nuremberg rally, slated for September 1934. Again, Riefenstahl was commissioned to film the proceedings; the results were indelibly recorded in her propagandistic masterpiece, Triumph of the Will (1935). As for Victory of Faith, it was long assumed that no complete copies survived, and the film seemed little more than an intriguing if minor postscript to Third Reich history.
Until now: a copy of Victory of Faith, lying unnoticed in Great Britain since Riefenstahl visited there in early 1934, has surfaced, providing what appears to be a complete version. Though far from a masterwork, the film is a revelation on many counts, offering a fascinating first draft of the ideas and techniques Riefenstahl would pull off so powerfully in Triumph of the Will. In their contrasts, the two films shed much light on the early evolution of Nazi propaganda: its evocation of heroism and collective will, its portrayal of the “national people’s community,” its depiction of Hitler most of all. Where Triumph of the Will showed Hitler as supreme symbol and absolute master of the movement, the Hitler of Victory of Faith is still first among equals, a man with an unruly forelock, a presence not yet wholly in command.
Moreover, Victory of Faith provides a revealing look at the Nazi movement in the first blush of its 1933 triumphs. Here, the movement still bears the marks of its street-fighter origins; its rituals are often raw, lacking the orchestrated precision and theatrical grandeur we associate with later Nazi stagecraft. In these and other ways, Victory of Faith fills a gap in our understanding of the Third Reich, capturing the Hitler state at a pivotal stage in its early development. For students of film, the aesthetics of power, and the Third Reich, this is essential viewing.
Germany, 1933, B&W, 70 minutes, Directed by Leni Riefenstahl, German dialogue with English subtitles.