on 24 June 2008
I had little preconceptions before watching this movie, save for a highly positive review in a film magazine; Had it been made anywhere but Germany itself I may not have been so intrigued. Oh, but HOW I was rewarded..
A staggering portrayal of what can happen when society implodes, it is not a film for the faint of heart though it must be shown this way just to gain any comprehension of the inhumanity of conditions in Berlin and eastern Germany as it's people were squashed between the advancing Allies and the big red machine.
The outside conditions serve as a perfect metaphor for the main subject of the film, the bitter and - if it's the right word at all - sad demise of Adolf Hitler, portrayed as you'll have read in other reviews, with unparalleled excellence by Bruno Ganz. Few performances, not only from Ganz, have so transfixed me from start to finish. If only I'd worked harder at school all those years ago I could have found a better way to praise this devastating masterpiece!
All I can say is buy it. You will not regret it.
on 13 January 2011
A German film about the last days of the Nazi regime, centered on the Fuhrer's bunker, from his 56th birthday on April 20th, 1945 to the fall of Berlin on May 8th. This is certainly a very compelling story (certainly one of the most important stories of the 20th century) and while it has been filmed before, it is the first time it's done in the German language. This makes the movie look far more authentic than when someone like Anthony Hopkins or Alec Guinness played an English speaking Fuhrer. And it has a neat framing device in the story as seen by Hitler's young secretary Traudl Junge. The more compelling parts of the movie, for me, are not the war scenes, but the discussions Hitler has with his closest aides and military staff: Jodl, Krebs, Burgdorf, Keitel, Speer, Wiedling, Mohnke. Most of them know the situation is extremely critical, but they are reluctant to tell the Fuhrer, who is increasingly in denial, promising final victory even after the Russians are only a few kilometers away from his headquarters. Only Goebbels remains completely wedded to the Fuhrer's autistic vision. Even Himmler and Goering, realizing the desperate situation of the Reich try to unsuccessfully arrange negotiations with the allies. These negotiations never got to anything, but Hitler is furious when he learns about them, and consider them both traitors.
Bruno Ganz is brilliant as Hitler, but the movie is considerably helped by the strengths of its many characters. For example, Fegelein, who as Himmler's adjutant, tries to convince Hitler and the other people in the bunker that it's best to leave Berlin. Fegelein meets an untimely fate and has become the subject of many internet gags (more on that later). Or Eva Braun, portrayed here as the ultimate dumb blond totally subservient to his man. Or Magda Goebbels, who can be both cold and hysterical. Perhaps the only character whose portrayal is unsatisfying is Joseph Goebbels, since he is played by an actor in a heavy and ridiculous white make up. Also strange is the decision to have Goering appear in only one scene and without a speaking role, just looking impatiently at his watch.
I remember that when the movie came out, some critics thought the movie was pro Nazi, in that it understood Hitler too much. I think with time it is clear that this charge is ridiculous. This movie clearly shows the delusion of Hitler and the terrible philosophy of the Nazis: no compassion and ultimate indifference to the fate of their own people. One criticism is that perhaps the movie was a bit too long: most of the scenes involving the bald doctor in the hospital or the child soldiers could have been cut and the movie would have been better.
Of course, by now the movie is well known by the hundreds (if not thousands) of parody videos in the Internet where the original audio is retained but the subtitles are changed so that Hitler and his aides end up arguing about a lot of ridiculous and anachronistic subjects (like computer programs, sport teams, pop stars, whatever). Those videos are sometimes very funny (and they have been surprisingly resilient in time given the short attention span of fads in the web), but if the movie on which they are based was not powerful, they couldn't have thrived as they did.
Bernd Eichinger's 2004 masterpiece "Der Untergang" is in every way a magnificent cinematic achievement deserving all the praise heaped on it by other reviewers here and by critics and audiences throughout the world. This is riveting and utterly convincing drama with five-star performances from all the leads and in particular a career-defining and oscar-worthy performance from Swiss-born Bruno Ganz as Hitler. Ganz is so consistently outstanding he dominates all his scenes. He shows Hitler in all his complexity: how he was able to inspire an almost mystical level of loyalty and fear from so many including his inner circle, most of the army generals and ordinary German citizens right until the end. He even has Hitler's Austrian accent exactly right (this would be lost on the non-German speaking viewer) and mannerisms observed from countless film records including the shaking hands thought to be caused by the progress of Parkinson's disease.
The main focus of the film's action is the drama played out in the Fuhrerbunker as Hitler interacts with Himmler and Fegelein, Albert Speer, various army generals and the dominant and ever-present Joseph Goebbels (played to perfection with cynical malice by Ulrich Matthes). Hitler rages against all who have "betrayed" him (the Wehrmacht, the Luftwaffe, Goering, Himmler, the German people); exhibits maniacal and delusional behaviour by issuing impossible-to-execute orders to phantom military formations which no longer exist, interrupted by occasional periods of insight and lucidity. Others try to maintain some normality in the face of the Armageddon unfolding around them, even as they discuss the best way to kill oneself: cyanide or a shot to the head?
This main narrative is counterbalanced by several well-integrated sub-plots focusing on the hell-on-Earth of the Soviet assault through the streets of Berlin, notably SS surgeon Ernst-Gunther Schenck's (Christian Berkel) attempt, with a subtle mixture of thoroughbred military efficiency and genuine humanitarian sentiment, to organise the medical facilities to care for the thousands of wounded and dying in the city. Some of the Hitler Youth defenders are literally children, assaulting the Soviet tanks with Panzerfaust rocket-grenades and in turn getting killed in droves. SS punishment squads roam the streets seeking deserters, real and imagined, to publicly execute. Chaos and mayhem reign, but National Socialist order must nevertheless be maintained.
The film looks magnificent and utterly real. Despite the focus on theatrical personal interactions inside the bunker, the outdoor street scenes are genuinely cinematic and show the unfolding horror and carnage to perfection.
The only minor issue might be that for the viewer unfamiliar with many of the 20 or so historical characters in the film it's difficult, on first viewing, to understand who everyone is and where they fit in to the story. Brief subtitling below a new character on first appearance explaining who he/she is might have helped here. This is one reason why the film is actually more absorbing and enjoyable on second viewing, when the viewer has more familiarity with the characters.
Overall a great, great historical drama based closely on eyewitness accounts which succeeds both as cinema and as drama. Make sure you see the film with original German dialogue as spoken by the actors, and don't be conned into watching an inferior overdubbed version.
A seriously excellent film deserving five stars. For anyone interested in this period of European history or just serious about film: see it.
on 22 June 2009
A few years ago I was in college studying media production. A local cinema put a special screening of Downfall on for us and I'm so glad I took the opportunity to go and see it. It's one of the films that will never leave my DVD shelf simply because of how mind blowing it is. Before we start though, there's a few things we need to cover; firstly is the fact that the entire film is spoken in German - so if you're unwilling to read subtitles then I'd turn back now. Secondly, the film is VERY long, though the reward is that you're not sat around waiting for the movie to end - it's one of those enthralling pieces that begs for more when it draws to a close. The third and final thing you need to take into account is whether you're ready to experience what the film is going to take you through over the three(ish) hours it runs for. It's not especially disgusting or overly gorey but some of the things that you're confronted by are not for the faint hearted. However, the thing to remember here is that the film is a piece based on history and it is therefore something we should all experience, understand and learn from.
So the film itself, what do we get? Well, to start, I want to point out that this is the only film I've ever watched where I forgot that I'm doing so. What I mean by this is that the film is SO real that you really lose yourself in it. Generally this is the objective of good theatre, so to experience this from a DVD is clear evidence of why it is so good. Ganz is the most convincing Hitler I've ever seen and the rest of the cast fill their places far better than most of the dense tripe that comes floating out of Hollywood these days. The sets and locations are very realistic, which I didn't expect either, I thought it would fall behind Saving Private Ryan's reality (especially with the budget that thing had) but in truth even the scenes on the surface were as realistic as anything in Ryan. The camera crew did a brilliant job, as professional as Hollywood, same with the lighting, editing, special effects and costume designers. In fact, the overall juxtoposition of this production far exceeds 99% of the films on the market today.
The film is powerful, so powerful in fact that you'll probably be thinking about it for some time. As a production, the film does not condone Hitler's actions, nor do you sympathise with him, though the greatest achievement is that you UNDERSTAND the situation better and as viewers we learn a lot about the madness of people's devotion to his cause. Again, some of the images portrayed through examples of this devotion can hit you hard, especially things like people committing suicide on screen when they learn of the Nazi defeat.
Do not let these issues put you off though, the film is utterly amazing and will blow you away if you have enough time and patience to take in the amount of issues and subjects raised into this three hour rollercoaster of a film.
Please get it, it's a piece of cinematic brilliance and everyone should have it on their shelf.
on 24 April 2006
Director Oliver Hirschbiegel's film is, thus-far, the closest that anyone has come to offering a cinematic insight into the end of one of the most terrible periods in human history. It is a film that will certainly fascinate and horrify in equal measure. It shows conflict, despair, hubris, compassion, loyalty and wanton cruelty in a way that has previously seldom been depicted. Only the deeply harrowing, Russian made masterpiece 'Come and See' can be seen to compare in this respect.
Set against the spectacular and cataclysmic end of the Third Reich, Downfall seeks, and largely succeeds, in offering a human face to a number of the 20th Centuries most notorious figures. It is no accident that academic luminaries such as Ian Kershaw, (Hitler's most prolific biographer), consider Bruno Ganz's portrayal of Hitler as the closest that anyone has yet come to an informed, insightful and some might even say sympathetic, view of Hitler the man. A role that should, unequivocally, have earned Ganz greater recognition.
Based largely on the books 'Until the Final Hour', by Hitler's secretary Traudl Junge, and the international bestseller 'Inside Hitler's Bunker' by Joachim C. Fest. To this end, Downfall is as authentic in detail as it is possible to be. Most of the events, and as much of the dialogue that can be, is as far as I could tell, fairly authentic and verbatum. Corroborated by the recollections and testimony of the only remaining bunker survivor Rochus Misch, the bunkers telephone operator who still lives in a suburb of Berlin. Yes, there is artistic license here, but this is kept to a minimum and only serves as a vehicle to make the plot more linear and concise, thus enabling the story to be delivered within the 150 minute running time.
This is not however a film made from a revisionist or apologist platform as a number of critics attested at the time of release. It shows the utter futility and cruelty of war in unflinching detail, and does not at any point shy away from some of the most harrowing events of the time in question. Neither does the film leave the viewer in any doubt where the burden of responsibility for the appalling events of WW2 must be apportioned. With few exceptions, notably Albert Speer, Hitler's architect and Minister for Armaments and small number of Wehrmacht officers, we see the Nazi's for the abhorrent, sociopathic monsters they so clearly were. As Magda Goebbels individually poisons each one of her six young children in turn, we get a glimpse of the blind fanaticism that led a hitherto civilised nation of people to the very edge of the darkest abyss.
There have been few better-made films than this stunningly authentic production. I would not hesitate to recommend Downfall to anyone with an interest in human nature, history, politics or good, intelligent, thought provoking adult cinema.
on 4 October 2009
I have read many, many books on the second world war, specifically around the Holocaust. I have also got familiar with certain characters, especially high ranking officers in all the services, including the SS. The DVD depicts very closely these characters & Bruno Ganz played Hitler with such passion. Near the end of the conflict he was especially convincing in his tirades at his generals & as quoted by other people, was more sympathetic to lower ranking staff i.e. Secretaries, valets etc.
The likeness of the high-ranking staff was very close to what they appeared in real life, especially, Himmler; Goebells; Jodl & Hess. The only one which in my opinion did not quite match the appearance in real life was Bormann.
Nevertheless, an excellent film and a most chilling scene of Magda Goebells murdering her children.
This is one of the best movies of all time. It is a story of a man, Adolf Hitler and a nation during its last days. Government has become totally detached from what is happening in the world around and people act in desperation while a few stand strong with a sense of duty that makes them rock hard in a sea of turmoil.
The story of Hitler is an honest one. He is a man, he can be fatherly, he is concerned about those around him, he can be mad and he can bring forth his ideals with burning passion. At the same time he is a broken man and at moments one feels a slight twinge of compassion. Shown as a human he becomes all the more scarier for it.
The film has a few moments of strong emotions, made all the stronger for how they are downplayed. I grown man it brought tears to my eyes and a horror for such times. The scene with Mrs. Goebbels and her children is an unforgettable moment in cinema. No high drama but a cold fact made intense by the sight of small feet as the mother covers their faces with their blankets.
The cinematography, sets, acting, detail and script are all to the highest standard. And thankfully for the films credibility is in German. This movie is cinema at its best, thoughtful and brings forth deep emotions. It is a good movie in every sense of the word. One of the best.
on 15 February 2007
This is one of best war films I have seen in recent years and certainly the best account of Hitler's last and the end of the Third Reich.
The action scenes showing the street battles are superbly realistic, showing some fierce resistance from remaining SS units, Hitler Youth and other Army units against the advancing Soviet forces. While behind the lines, like in reality SS Military Police and Nazi volunteers lynch anyone they suspect of being a deserter, which is basically any man not in uniform! These sad victims are hung from the nearest lampost with signs around their neck stating their alleged crimes.
However the best performances and scenes are those from Hitlers bunker showing Hitler, his Generals and military staff and the few remaining high ranking Nazis who remained with Hitler at the end or nearby like Joseph Goebbels (and his family) and Albert Speer. The film was criticised by some for making Hitler appear human or sympathetic? I dont agree with these criticisms. Despite Hitler's crimes, racism and insanity technically he was a human being so how else could he be shown, as a demon or monster? The performance was so good anyway that I did not come away feeling sorry for Hitler as his Reich crashed down around him. Insttead I felt sorry for the German people and his soldiers throwing their lives away for him. But I did feel I understood Hitler a little better.
Its a great powerful film and all the better for being in German. It really needs 10 stars.
on 8 September 2006
One of the best and most innovative films I have seen for many months. Forget mainstream war films and give this a viewing - you won't regret it!!
on 1 February 2009
I agree with everything others have said on the brilliance of the actors, the script, the direction and the sets.
However I disagree with the view that the humanisation of people who have long been portrayed as monsters is wrong or changes historical fact. The people involved were human beings and if you know your history then it makes their acts seem more monstrous, not the people monsters. A monster doing monstrous acts is understandable but a human doing monstrous acts is shocking, disgusting and sadly, all too familiar.
In the film it was the little set pieces that affected me the most - the barely glimsped shot of two officers struggling with Hitler's dog while a third pours poison down its throat. The immaculate white-glove dinners put on right up to the very end. People having to go outside for a cigarette because Hitler abhorred tobacco smoke. Goebbles children forming an impromptu choir, and so on. Finely observed details that inform the entire picture.
And I shall remember the details of the SS Doctor's dinner with his family till my dying day.
Must see movie for anyone interested in why ordinary people do extraordinary things and for a view on a true Heart of Darkness