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The Downfall (Der Untergang) - Preview

Preview by: Jack Foley

A NEW film depicting Adolf Hitler with a human side has recently been shown in Germany, breaking one of the remaining taboos of German cinema, by having the former dictator appear in a central role.

The Downfall (Der Untergang), written and produced by Bernd Eichinger, portrays Hitler during the final days leading to his suicide, at the end of the Second World War.

Yet, far from being a monster and malicious dictator, on the brink of insanity, the film opts to show him as a soft-spoken, mild-mannered man, with a human side.

Needless to say, it has caused a certain amount of outrage, in Germany, where audiences in Berlin were among the first to be given the chance to see it.

In an interview with the BBC, for instance, Dr Rolf Giesen, from the Film Museum in Berlin, criticised the film for being ‘the first time that they have tried to discover the human touch in that monster’.

"It is aimed at the generation who did not know about the terrors of World War Two and national socialism," he continued. "This youth will find it a fascinating insight in to the fatalism of evil.

"We have just seen Mel Gibson's The Passion of The Christ, now we have the Passion of Adolf Hitler."


Another leading commentator, Isabel Marschall, an art historian, described watching the film as being a little like a nightmare from which he couldn’t escape.

While he also predicted that people might be able to use the film in a way that might not reflect kindly on Germany - which is still struggling to come to terms with the darker side of its recent history.

However, he did add that The Downfall was good in other ways.

The film is based on eyewitness accounts, as well as the book of the same name by historian, Joachim Fest, and is due to go on general release in Germany, in September.

It is told from the point of view of Traudl Junge, one of Hitler's personal secretaries, and finds Hitler confined to his sparsely furnished, bare-walled bunker, from where he orders non-existent units into battle and declares the defeated German nation ‘has shown itself unworthy’ of him.

Swiss actor, Bruno Ganz, portrays Hitler, and is said to achieve a photographic likeness of the stooped, 56-year-old dictator, who was plagued by Parkinson's disease.

And defending the project, producer, Bernd Eichinger, who also produced The Name of the Rose, maintained that a degree of empathy with Hitler is unavoidable.

"If you want to understand history, you have to understand the people that make it," he told German ZDF television.

He added: "If you throw the spotlight on the biggest possible physical and psychological collapse of an entire civilisation, namely our German nation, then it must be possible for us to tell this story ourselves. We have to."

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