Friday, 15 May 2009

Downfall


Der Untergang; War drama, Germany/ Austria/ Italy, 2004; D: Oliver Hirschbiegel, S: Bruno Ganz, Alexandra Maria Lara, Juliane Köhler, Thomas Kretschmann, Christian Redl

Berlin during the final days of World War II. The young Traudl Junge, secretary of Adolf Hitler, observes the chaos. On 20th April '45, Hitler is celebrating his 56th birthday, but the party is crashed by the sounds of fighting with the Soviet Army only 12 kilometres away from the city. Heinrich Himmler and architect Albert Speer advise him to flee the city, but Hitler is determined to stay in his bunker, still thinking the Third Reich will win the war. After the ammunition starts running out, Hitler and Eva Braun decide to marry and commit suicide. Their bodies are then burned. The Soviet Army releases Traudl who manages to escape after the war ends.

The sequence where Bruno Ganz's performance of Adolf Hitler observing the map of Berlin and then having a nervous breakdown followed by angry shouting at his generals became such a famous viral video, used by numerous users to "sub" his lines in order to mock their advisories, either for some election campaign or a black joke, that it became tempting not to see the whole film from which it came from, Hirschbiegel's "Downfall". Even though it was nominated for an Oscar for best foreign language film and the fact that it was made by German authors, who again wanted to point out their detachment from that part of dark history of their ancestors, "Downfall" became quite controversial since some pointed out that the story showed a 'humanized' Hitler. The world is used to the fact that the dictator is always shown as some 'bogeyman', but here he was shown almost as a "normal" person who was wrong - Hirschbiegel seems to make a daring move, almost as if he shows that even the monster was a human being, whatever that says about human beings. Indeed, the opening is quite uneasy - during the job interview, young Traudl Junge is tested for the position of the Fuhrer's secretary, and instead of the monster showing up, Hitler shows up uncomfortably charming to her and the viewers, testing her typing speed, humorously adding to calm her down: "Don't worry, you can't make more spelling mistakes than me". If the scene really played out like that in reality, just like Junge wrote in her memoirs, the whole thing is even weirder.

Hirschbiegel shows the dark side, the dread of war and destruction, yet he also shows Hitler from the perspective of the people of Third Reich, who were really believing he was the good guy - the scene where Junge observes how Goebbels cries in front of her because Hitler won't listen to him anymore, is completely surreal: Goebbels is crying, actually having real emotions because he is worried for Hitler! It's insane. The authors went on a very slippery road there because they wanted to show the psychological insight of the people there, but the approach remains dubious non the less. Towards the end, they even made an emotional attachment for the dictator, and that was a wrong decision. Maybe they needed to show more from his private life, more from his childhood, to show why he had such an irrational hate towards some nations and practiced a blockade of other states, instead of showing only his last few days before his death. Because not showing the whole scope of a person who was responsible for deaths of tens of millions of people, but just his side, may seem little - one sided. Still, it's a fine film, grey, sterile, but also powerful, with a scary message that people can often not be aware they are serving the wrong side.

Grade:++

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