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downfall Downfall (Untergang, Der)
Directed by:
Oliver Hirschbiegel
Cast: Bruno Ganz, Alexandra Maria Lara, Corinna Harfouch, Ulrich Matthes

Written by:
Ricardo Barberini

July 18, 2007

In the last sixty years many movies about Adolf Hitler and his rise and fall have been made.  Invariably, most of the actors have been British actors with theatrical background. 


While the British actors are fine, none of the one’s who portrayed him could display the sense of irrational madness that possessed the real life Hitler. None have really captured the essence of a severely schizophrenic and paranoid man on the borders of insanity.  Hitler also had a charismatic personality that made even older and more educated men and women admire him and be willing to die for him.  Most of that has been missing from previous movies.   

This movie is based on two books but it is really the story of Traudl Junge who was Hitler’s personal secretary and loyal admirer for many years. 

As some of you probably know, the war that Germany had started back in 1939 was winding down rapidly by 1945.  The Fuehrer committed suicide, on April 30 1945, rather than fall into the Russian hands and Germany surrendered one week later.     The story is about the last ten days of Hitler’s life in the Berlin bunker.  Anybody who wants to know what happened next, to Germany and the Germans, should watch “Germany Year Zero” (Germania Anno Zero) by Roberto Rosselini.  That movie is one of the best ever made and in realism and pathos far surpasses the superficiality of a movie like Citizen Kane.  

The difference between this Hitler movie and the rest is acting and directing.  All actors are German and the dialog is in German.  That alone makes you feel the tense atmosphere of the bunker and the despair of Berliners outside so poignantly.  

Many events occur during those last days.  First, Hitler is still hopeful that his mostly non-existent armies can crush the Russian advance and relieve the city.  At times he goes into extremes of rage calling his generals stupid, coward and traitorous.  Every now and then sanity returns and you see a melancholy even a docile man who has lost everything and is searching for some kind of divine or outer worldly interference to save him and his nation.  Then one by one his top lieutenants desert him.  First Goering and then Himmler abandon him and try to make peace with the invading armies.  Hitler flies into one of his mad rages and yet the generals, the admirals, the guards and the civilians around him all seem to accept his madness with servility.  Truth is stranger that fiction!  His remaining beleaguered cohorts try to convince him to leave Berlin and join one of his remaining armies.  At that time, the army of the south under Field Marshal Kesselring was still quite viable and could have protected him and prolonged the war.  He could have even escaped to Argentina as many Nazis such as Eichman and Mengele did.   

Finally, realizing that the end is near, with Russian troops only a few blocks away from his bunker, he decides to commit suicide.   First, he kills his favorite dog Blondi.  Then Eva Braun takes a cyanide pill.  Finally, Hitler takes a pill while shooting himself in head with a hand gun.  Sadly enough, the deranged Joseph Goebbels and his even more fanatical wife Magda murder their very young children and commit suicide themselves.

The Germans had slaughtered millions of Russians during the war. To them, Russians were a second rate Asiatic race and as such killing a Russian was not the same as killing a Frenchman or Belgian.  The metric was ten Western Europeans equaled one German but100 Russians equaled a German.  The Russians returned the favor by raping and pillaging their way through German territories.  Understandably enough, the Germans were afraid of surrendering to the Russians since they knew what laid in store for them.  Sadly, General Eisenhower who was a military commander but lacked any understanding of politics, held back to allow the Russians to invade the Eastern part of Germany.  He could have liberated Berlin and most of Germany and spared the nightmare that followed the Russian invasion.  However, he and the American politicians including the President believed Stalin and his promises.  The result was that all of Eastern Europe and a third of Germany fell into the communist trap and a reign of terror that lasted over fifty years.

In the movie, Traudl Junge is shown getting away safely.  We know that she was captured by the Russians and the unthinkable happened to her.  She was raped repeatedly by the Russian soldiers some of whom were probably Asians and was held prisoner.  She was eventually released and lived anonymously as a secretary until she was suddenly discovered by the media in 2002.  She died a celebrity of sorts soon after.

Bruno Ganz makes this movie tick.  He looks like Hitler and his portrayal of Adolph Hitler is so realistic that we believed he was Hitler.  Many people have seen Hitler’s last video where he bestows the Iron Cross on a few very young soldiers.  He looks so pathetic that you really feel sad for him.  Bruno Ganz conveyed the same feelings of loss and agony as Hitler must have felt on that day.  That was not Bruno’s only achievement.   We saw him through rages and moments of complete loss of his faculties such as when he lets Albert Speer walk away after he had admitted that he had disobeyed Hitler’s final order to destroy the infrastructure of Germany by destroying its remaining dams, factories and utility plants.  Then we saw the gentler Hitler that we had never seen before.  Like when he interviews Traudl and tolerates her typing mistakes, or when Goebbels children sit on his lap or when he says goodbye to his secretaries and people who worked closely with him.  The saddest part of his life is the final supper.  You see him, bent over and shaking uncontrollably, eating his final meal with relish.  He cleans up his plate and thanks the cook for a wonderful meal.  That is probably the high point of Bruno’s acting as Adolf Hitler.  You see this tortured man who is suddenly calm and is at peace with himself and the world.  He is not the monster anymore, just another human being gone wrong.

We would like to pay tribute to Alexandra Maria Lara a very attractive actress who played the part of Traudl Junge.  Traudl was only a passive observer and Alexandra played the role to a dot.  If we had an American glamour queen playing Alexandra we would have probably seen an over aggressive secretary who tries to bully Hitler or argue and show her dominant personality to other denizens of the Berlin bunker.  Thank goodness that this movie was made by the Germans with no regards for personal agrandisment of any particular actor.   Acting by other participants was fine.  The real credit for this movie belongs to the director Oliver Hirschbiegel, the cinematographer Rainer Klausman who managed to make believable shots in the confines of a bunker, Bruno Ganz, the best Hitler ever, Alexandra Maria Lara, Juliane Kohler (Eva Braun) and Corinna Harfouch (Madga Goebbles.)   We are not trying to downplay the work of others.  It is a credit to the director Hirschbiegel that everything worked as it should have and the actors that he chose were perfect fits for their roles.  We would like to add that after Bruno Ganz, it would be very difficult for any other actor to play Hitler. The Downfall was nominated as best foreign movie of 2004.  It lost to the “Sea Inside” a manipulative film about the right to euthanasia. 

We give this movie starstarstarstar.  The Downfall is in German with English subtitles.  If you are not used to foreign movies it will be a little trying in the beginning.  We would recommend it for the family.  There are some scenes of dead people hanging from poles or being shot.  You may want to warn your youngsters.  But, unless we teach the next generation the horrors of war and intolerance, they will be sure to taste the fruits of evil again.  Look at Rwanda, Darfur and the mess in Iraq.

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