Nine for IX: The Diplomat (2013)

Directed by Jennifer Arnold & Senain Kheshgi

As a student of history, I am immensely curious on how certain time periods affect the societies around the world. For instance, the Cold War was just that, cold. Not a war on the battlefield, it because more of a ware about society and life in a capitalist country versus a communist one. Sure, there were a fair share of scares (re: Cuban missile crisis), and plenty of weapons of mass destruction and military development during the time, but I have always been far more interested in social history than military. The people tell the story, so when it came to societies competing, literally a competition over lifestyles, the Cold War is one of the more interesting time periods in recent history.

Directors Jennifer Arnold and Senain Kheshgi focus their installment of Nine for IX on the decorated figure skater Katarina Witt, and the pressure, stress, and responsibility to uphold a greater ideal, that all fell on her shoulders during the Cold War. Witt was the enemy for Americans. A communist from East Germany, and a fierce, world class competitor. She, like most any other athlete, just wanted to compete. But her unique setting forced her into an unorthodox path in her athletic career. Without guns blazing, it often fell on athletic competition to prove communism over capitalism, a fairly obviously and blunt statement made at the very beginning of the film. It fell on Witt to represent the superiority of the East Germans. A task at which she was fairly proficient.

At this point in my review of the film, I feel tempted to simply recount the story of the film, which is not the purpose of the review at all, yet the film delivered by Arnold and Kheshgi tempts me to do so for being so bland. Perhaps my love of history hinders my enjoyment of the film, as it recounts the upbringing of Witt in a communist setting, getting an opportunity to train and become one of the best figure skaters in the world, without need of wealth or status. She was a communist. But her world fame that followed forced her into a role of diplomat for East Germany, whether she liked it or not. That is how things were. Instead of really delving deep into the psyche and struggle of Witt, like they should have, Arnold and Kheshgi seemed reserved in just showing us the step by step path of Witt’s career.

We are fortunate to get to see Witt provide her own commentary, and her enthusiasm for the sport is wonderful. But it seems more the standard delivery of the 30 for 30 structure, without an attempt to be anything more. We get a nice, neat, concise summary of Witt’s career, and the various factors that made it noteworthy. A unique story, no doubt, but Arnold and Kheshgi don’t ever seem curious enough about the subject to show us any depth. The film comes off more like “Oh my goodness, did you know this about Katarina Witt!?” and less like “Katarina Witt experienced unique circumstances in her skating career, and faced great outside pressure and stress from her communist government.” The first skims the surface. The second asserts the surface, and then proceeds to investigate further.

The film was enough to whet my appetite for the story of Witt, and further piqued my interest in the subject of societal differences and relations, especially during a period such as the Cold War. It is a springboard, urging me to seek out more information and stories on the subject. So I suppose my mission now to find something that does a little better job at diving into the details, into the nit and gritty of the subject. The Diplomat is completely inane. A harmless documentary that is fine enough for the format, good enough to present something new to those unfamiliar with the story. There is such potential with the story, however, and because of that, the story of Katarina Witt does not suit the hour long format. It would have been better served in short format, or stretched out with more detail to a full 90 minutes or even two full hours.

**1/2 – Average


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