A/V Room









The Downfall (Der Untergang) (15)

Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Making of (60 mins). Cast and filmmaker interviews. Historical Personalities and their Actor's Biographies. The Bunker - A Virtual Tour. Shooting In Russia: behind the scenes look with production crew commentary. About Shooting: behind the scenes look with director's commentary.

A FILM which dares to show the humanity in Adolf Hitler is always going to be controversial - but even more so if it comes from the country of the dictator's origin.

Far from glorifying one of history's most notorious tyrants, however, The Downfall (or Der Untergang) serves as a chillingly effective example of why a nation was able to fall under his spell, as well as a cautionary tale for the future.

Hitler, as portrayed by Swiss actor, Bruno Ganz, was a human being after all, equally as capable of displaying love and compassion, as he was able to orchestrate some of the most horrific atrocities known to mankind.

Oliver Hirschbiegel's film, which was written and produced by Bernd Eichinger, does not seek to sympathise with him, but rather to understand the history of what was involved.

It is based on eyewitness accounts, as well as the book of the same name by historian, Joachim Fest, and is told from the point of view of Traudl Junge, one of Hitler's personal secretaries, whose tale has already formed the basis for the documentary, Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary.

It takes place during the final days of The Third Reich, when Hitler is confined to his sparsely furnished, bare-walled bunker, from where he orders non-existent troops into battle and declares the defeated German nation ‘has shown itself unworthy’ of him.

The scenes inside the bunker are offset by the bombing campaign taking place outside, thereby showing the extent of the suffering of the German people whom Hitler was prepared to sacrifice for failing him.

Indeed, rarely has a film succeeded in depicting the terror of living amid the bombs so effectively, thereby exposing the contemptible attitude of Hitler into the bargain - that even when faced with certain defeat, he would rather continue the bloodshed.

And yet still the question is posed, how did a nation ever embrace him?

The answer comes in the film's depiction of his attitude and interaction with the people he cared for - his generals, his secretaries and, above all, his family, most notably his girlfriend, Eva Braun.

During such moments, Ganz portrays Hitler as a sensitive figure, capable of reasurring and inspiring those in his charge, while also showing tremendous compassion.

An early sequence in which Hitler dictates a letter to his secretary, only to find her struggling to keep up, finds him reassuring her that there is nothing to be afraid of and re-dictating things in slower fashion.

While during his dealings with his generals' children, he is seen as a kindly father-figure, capable of generosity and fun.

Yet any fears that this might create any sympathy for him are quickly dispelled by further insights into his deluded mind.

His frequent rantings against the Jews are both vile and terrifying, while his contempt for those who have failed him continually manifests itself into the rantings of a madman.

During such moments, Ganz is mesmerising, capturing the mannerisms and unnerving intensity of the German leader for all of its worth.

His performance is exemplary throughout, both in look and tone, serving to provide a telling insight into the mind of a monster.

Yet he is ably supported by a first-rate cast who embrace their opportunity to shine when the spotlight is passed to them.

Juliane Kohler portrays Eva Braun, for example, as a perceptive admirer of Hitler, who places her own fears for the future as secondary importance to her unwavering support for her lover.

While Alexandra Maria Lara, as Traudl Junge, capably demonstrates the blind devotion to her boss that compelled her to remain with him until his final moments.

Such humane performances, however, are offset by the inherent evil surrounding Hitler as depicted by the likes of Corinna Harfouch and Ulrich Mathes as Magda and Joseph Goebbels.

Harfouch, especially, provides the movie with its most harrowing moment, as she poisons her own children in their sleep, rather than let them fall captive to the Russians or Americans.

Such acts serve to underline the absolute faith that was placed in their policies, even if it meant committing the unthinkable.

As such, it provides a timely reminder of the world's suffering today at the hands of similarly devoted extremists.

And therein lies the strength of The Downfall - its ability to serve as a chilling history lesson, as well as a warning to the world leaders of today.

History must never be allowed to repeat itself - and films such as this might just ensure that it does not.


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