A fascinating documentary about a mysterious movie star

In 1982, the elusive and reclusive Marlene Dietrich finally agreed to sit down with Maximillian Schell, her co-star from 1961’s Judgment at Nuremburg, and participate in a documentary about her life. But she had one condition: She did not want to appear onscreen. The result, 1984’s Marlene (now on DVD), is a fascinating portrait of one very bright star trying to grapple with life’s eventual and inevitable fade.

The director Schell and an often-evasive Dietrich, then 81 years old, engage in a series of lively conversations, covering childhood, the Holocaust, co-stars, stardom, death, sex and love—skillfully accompanied by a lush parade of vintage footage from Dietrich’s extensive oeuvre. We hear the old Marlene dismiss and grumble while the young one croons and dances, creating a unique dynamic that is funny and sweet and often a little sad, but above all is an illuminating peek into this enigmatic figure during the twilight of her life.

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