Sunday, May 01, 2005

Movie Review: Downfall

Downfall is a mesmerising, gut-wrenching, gruelling, shocking drama about the last 10 days of Adolf Hitler's life and Third Reich at the end of WWII. It is based on two main sources: Inside Hitler’s Bunker: The Last Days of the Third Reich and Until the Final Hour: Hitler’s Last Secretary. The second of these, written by Traudl Junge, one of Hitler's secretaries, provides the view through which we see the story unfold. Junge was hired in the autumn of 1942 when she was 22 years old to be Hitler's private secretary. The film begins with a black screen and a recording of Junge's actual voice as she explains that she '... was not an enthusiastic Nazi'. The story then begins as Junge (Alexandra Maria Lara), along with a number of other young women, line up to be interviewed for the job as personal secretary to the Fuhrer (Bruno Ganz). She gets the job. The narrative then jumps to two and a half years later and we find ourselves in Hitler's bunker as the Russians advance on the Berlin. Under the streets of Berlin we see Hitler, first realising that he has lost the war and implementing Clauswitz (defend Berlin at all costs), and then becoming increasing deluded as he tries to turn the war around. As he and his "guests" party on we see, above the streets, the absolute decimation of the German civilian population as they hope that their Furher will bring about victory. There are some shocking scenes in this movie for different reasons. There is some incredibly realistic war scenes rivalling Saving Private Ryan. The most disturbing for me was when Goebbels (Ulrich Matthes) and his wife, Magda (Corinna Harfouch), who believes her children are too good to live in a world without National Socialism, give them a sedative and, while they are sleeping, kill them. Through the course of this movie we see Hitler shrink into a pathetic, insane, raving old man while he still commands the loyalty of his soldiers and staff. Refusing to leave Berlin, against the persistent advice of those around him, he finally commits suicides with his wife, Eva Braun (Juliane Köhler). This film is not, perhaps, for the weak at heart. And yet it is a film that must be seen -- as someone has said, it is perhaps the most powerful war movie ever made. Bruno Ganz is absolutely brilliant as Adolf Hitler. The rest of the cast are excellent. One of the criticisms that has been levelled at Downfall is that the intimacy and intermittent humaneness with which the director has portrayed Hitler might make it too easy for some people to sympathise with him. But, according to what I have read, the portrayal of Hitler is accurate. It allows us to see, perhaps, why so many were seduced by him into perpetrating one of the greatest evils the world has ever known. I like what Michael Wilmington says about this issue:
... unless we fully understand that horror can emanate not just from obvious villains but from destructive but plausible human beings capable of inspiring sympathy and devotion, as Hitler was, we remain vulnerable to the rants and prejudices of the next seductive historical monster, open to the next Gotterdammerung. "Downfall," whatever its shortcomings, bears strong witness to great evil. That is its triumph as a film.
I agree. My Rating: ***** (out of 5) Best Review 'A riveting re-creation of three world-changing collapses: those of the Nazi party, of militarized Germany as a whole, and of the Führer who guided them into self-destructive ruin.' - David Sterritt/Christian Science Monitor NOTE: There are so many favourable reviews of this movie it was hard to pick one! Worst Review 'Downfall may be grimly self-important and inescapably trivializing. But we should be grateful that German cinema is more inclined to normalize the nation's history than rewrite it.' - J Hoberman/Village Voice Content Warnings [very] strong violence, disturbing images and some nudity Award Nomination Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film (Germany), 77th Annual Academy Awards Related Links

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