This is a near flawless movie, well deserving of a wide audience. The fact that it is a German movie which required watching subtitles, may put some people off - but the reality is that the German actors give this much more resonance than any Hollywood version could have.
Much has been said about the fantastic performance of Bruno Ganz as Hitler. This is his movie, no doubt. It should also be mentioned, however, that all of the performances are so spot on that we are removed from a theatrical overview of events, and truly become part of life in the bunker. So many movies of this period show either the two dimensional Nazi bad guys and Hitler as a raving lunatic and nothing else, or a dispassionate overview of the tactics of the battle for Berlin. This movie achieves something rare - a real personal insight into the characters and how they informed the battle tactics and actions of individuals.
Our view into this world is through the young and naive private secretary Traudl Junge, who wrote one of the books on which the movie is based. Thus, historical accuracy is very high. But what we see is an insight into the humanity of Hitler - in one moment warm and compassionate, the next brutal and vulgar. We can understand through Ganz' portrayal the charisma the man must have had to attract such loyal devotion.
Do not be fooled into thinking that a movie about life in the bunker will be small scale low budget sets.. the movie ventures outside and we get glimpses of some terrible battle scenes. Those with DTS capability for surround sound will be richly rewarded. The scenes of a war ravaged Berlin are incredibly real - in fact, shot in Saint Petersburg.
Towards the end the scenes become more and more disturbing as the veneer of normality is stripped away as the war looms closer. Scenes of suicides and murders are truly disturbing - not least the scene where Magda Goebbels, having sworn her children should not survive in a world without National Socialism, calmly murders them in their sleep, one at a time, before calmly sitting down to a game of cards.
At once compelling in the drama of a city at war, and engrossing for its insight into characters normally cinema is too scared to show as humanity, this is perhaps one of the most insightful movies into the horror of National Socialism in WW II and the man who created it. The movie is bookended by the real Traudl Junge speaking in a 2001 documentary, adding an entirely appropriate coda to the movie showing its relevance to all of us.
Thoroughly and unreservedly recommended.
Having bought this as a spot purchase and knowing nothing about it beforehand, my wife and I watched it. To say we were surprised would be unfair but it was so much better than I could and would have imagined. The film focuses on the very end period of the war. Hitler, in his bunker with high ranking officers of the German army with his devoted secretary Traudl Junge. It is an astonishing piece of film. Bruno Ganz is superb as Adolf Hitler. His performance ranks as one of the best I have ever witnessed. It is simply breathtaking. I would recommend this film to anyone with an interest in the 2nd World War as this focus on the very last parts of the War is very well scripted and filmed. It is one of the best films in my extensive collection. Buy it and you will be buying a masterpiece.
on 14 October 2006
I don't usually go in for watching foreign language films. Not because I dislike them, merely that living in the provinces mean we sadly don't get to see them up here! However, this had a limited run at a cinema in Birmingham and I was lucky enough to see it. This is a magnificent piece of film making.
Bruno Ganz in the lead role of Hitler is superb, capturing the very essence of the madness that was Hitler and the total self-delusion of the last days of the Third Reich. The contrast between his tenderness towards his secretaries and the complete disdain for the rest of the world is remarkable. Ganz acts out a very difficult role, but comes through with flying colours. The depiction of the secretary Traudl Junge is perhaps a little sentimentalised, but any film has to have some humanity. Perhaps she was blameless, perhaps not.
The films most chilling scene features the killing of the Goebbels children by their mother, played chillingly by Corinna Harfouch. This is particularly uncomfortable viewing.
The real reason that this film is so successful IS that it humanises the Nazis. One has a distinct respect and even sympathy with some of the characters. This is hard to take when we know what they accomplished and makes for very uncomfortable reflection. This is intelligent film-making and well worth giving over an evening for. Hitler and the end of the Reich have never been portrayed as well as this.
on 4 April 2008
The director, Bernd Eichinger, researched for over 20 years for this movie and it is based on the latest findings regarding incidents and characters involved. Historians both praised and severely questioned the approach since the accomplished authenticity can be misleading. For instance the last interlocution between Albert Speer and Adolf Hitler is based on a belated report by Speer only. But then the interaction between the people in the bunker is what gives them life and allows the audience a perspective that could not be achieved by a documentary. In any case, there is no purely fictitious scene to be found in this film, every single dialogue and action is based on the written record of a witness.
The bunker scenes were shot in a studio in Munich, the outside scenes in St. Petersburg. There is a lot of material on the two bonus DVDs about both. The reason why they chose St. Petersburg was because a few streets there actually look like Berlin during the last days of war. Embarrassing as it was for the authorities, they needed the money. This also allowed the film makers to cast Russians as extras who appear very Aryan with their blue eyes and blonde hair (e.g. the fanatic girl who is fighting in the streets), which is quite ironic. Also I was very touched when I learned that this movie was a German-Russian co-production.
Ulrich Matthes, who plays Joseph Goebbels, says during his interview (also on the bonus DVDs) that he had had a terrible conflict getting into Goebbels' mind because a method actor has actually to like the persona they are taking on. So he accepted an opposite role in the movie "Der neunte Tag" where he personifies a priest who is tortured by a Nazi in the concentration camp of Dachau.
Since I did not watch the English DVD but only the German I cannot comment on the quality of subtitles. But the title "The Downfall" appears to be quite well chosen: I visualize something falling down from very high above and shattering on the ground [of reality]. "Der Untergang" (going under) has a similar meaning but would be used for a translation of "The sinking of the Titanic" or "The destruction of Pompeii" - something is dead & buried.
Other films on the Third Reich that I found extremely impressive are:
Schindler's List by Spielberg; The Pianist by Polanski; and Conspiracy - a BBC/HBO production.
on 16 November 2005
Largely based on the account of Trudl Junge who, aged 22, became Hitler's secretary in 1943, "Downfall" portrays the last few days of the Nazi regime, now confined within the claustrophobia of the Berlin Bunker. The film opens with a brief interview of Frau Junge, an old woman accepting guilt for her part in the tyranny.
And then it's back to her first meeting with Hitler - an impressionable young woman, swept off her feet by an opportunity to be close to the ultimate celebrity. And then another jump through time to the Bunker and the last days, with the Red Army sweeping into Berlin.
It's a very physical performance by Bruno Ganz as Hitler; he makes the Fuhrer physically insignificant, a little man with big ideas and flamboyant but volatile emotions. Ganz's gestures, his body language, his passion, his histrionics are utterly convincing. It is a compelling piece of acting - Ganz describes (in an interview on the DVD extras) how he had to suspend his own hatred of Hitler in order to play the man. The aim was realism, accuracy, not caricature or parody. It's an astonishing performance.
Around Hitler, the fanatics cling to fantasy, believing to the end that some miracle will happen, that they will be proved right, that somehow the Fuhrer will conjure up … what? Yet others are already plotting to abandon the sunken ship, to try to save themselves. This is not the downfall of Adolf Hitler, it is the utter collapse of a regime and its ideology. All that is left is fantasy, and recrimination. Ultimately, they blame the German people for having failed them. While the monstrous fantasy persists within the Bunker, above, on the streets of Berlin and across the German countryside, there is death, destruction, and a harvest of horror being reaped.
Within the Bunker are mortal creatures who once held the power of life or death over a continent but who are now reduced to fragile psyches searching for escape, for excuses, for some tangible ray of hope. As their world implodes, fanaticism vies with panic, the instrumentalism of survival, the obligations of duty, even individual heroism.
Superb performances are almost routine in this film, but Corinna Harfouch as Frau Goebbels provides one of the most memorable, demanding, and chilling screen presences I've ever seen. She portrays an empty husk of a woman inhabited by blind devotion and belief. Again, in interview, she explains just how much this role took out of her.
You are left with an impression of Hitler's ability to beguile. The functionaries are blindly obedient. The soldiers follow their duty. The women idealise him - Eva Braun is passionately in love, Alexandra Maria Lara plays the confused innocence of Traudl Junge, and Frau Goebbels is obsessed by an almost psychotic idealism and reverence for her Fuhrer. The claustrophobia of the Bunker is echoed in the moral and intellectual straitjacket of the Nazi regime's remnants.
The film delivers a convincing authenticity. It is disturbing, frightening, horrifying. And the DVD extras underpin its quality. The discussion of the morality of making the film, the angst which clearly gripped many of the actors, the determination to deliver a valid account, free of sensationalism, special effects, hype, glitz or gloss - all this becomes clear in the interviews and commentaries available on the second disc. An astonishing, important, and absolutely compulsive piece of viewing which will leave you moved, even shaken. Absolutely first class.
on 25 June 2010
A powerful disturbing drama, portraying, the last days of, Hitler, and the end of the war. What made this film so disturbing for me, was not only the flawless and superb acting, but that it is based on actual true events, according, to eyewitness testimonies, of those there. Hitlers personal secutery, and personal guard. the film, sticks to these historical accounts throughout.
It brings home the true horror of war and, the evilness of a crazed dictator, and his faithful followers, and just what humans are capable of.
The acting is not only some of the best acting you'll ever see, but, the actors looked so much like the people they portrayed from real life, it's uncanny, and the casting director, should be applauded for such a good job. Bruno Ganz, looks chillingly like Hitler himself.
Theirs plenty of blood and gore, people blowing their brains out happens quite a lot in this film, it's certainly can be classed as a Horror movie in that respect, and was very disturbing to watch.
Another thing I found disturbing to watch, was Frau Goebbels killing her own children, with cyanide capsules, I have always found it hard to understand, and get my head around.
A very atmospheric film, wonderfully directed, the sound quality on this film, is stunning too, explosion from bombs, made me jump once or twice, even without, my home theatre system being on. dialogue in German, with subtitles.
To sum up, apart from people shooting their brains out every minute, to wich, I found most disturbing, and difficult to watch, and the ruthlessness of Hitler, I have to accept, it happened, and this is a very accurate potrayl, and the closest, we will ever see, to actual events.
a stunningly evocative performance, that will haunt me forever.
on 6 March 2008
This film attracted some criticism on it's release for Ganz's portrayal of Hitler.The reason for this is that Ganz shows that,whatever else he was,Hitler was human,not a demon or monster from another dimension.This humanity(I realise the irony of writing "Hitler" and "humanity" in the same sentance)comes out strongly in one sequence.
Hitler has just finished a raging tirade against his military commanders,denouncing them as cowards who should all be shot.A crowd of lesser functionaries and Eva Braun in the corridor outside can overhear all of this.Hitler then leaves the conference room and tells some of his staff they casn leave.Braun insists she is staying.Hitler then embraces and kisses her in view of the throng.
When I first saw this sequence,it almost turned my stomach,the thought that Hitler could show love and affection for another human.Then it hit me that even the most evil of people have other aspects to their personality.Ganz shows Hitler as being kind to animals,sympathetic to a nervous secretary,patting the cheek of a child soldier of the Hitler Youth,and enjoying the company of the Goebells'(?spelling)children.
At the same time,he can state that the German people are unworthy of him,it matters not a jot what happens to them after his death,or that his proudest boast is that he tried to eliminate the Jews of Europe.
To portray Hitler(or Stalin,or Mao,or Pol Pot,or......)as a demon is a cop out-demons,like gods,are by their very nature incomprehensible to humans.The attempt to understand and make sense of Hitler and Nazism must start from the point that humans,not very different from you or me did the most disgusting of crimes.Ganz deserves thanks from all of us for getting that point across.
on 19 May 2010
After seeing this film parodied countless times mostly portraying Hitler as constantly being at war with the antics of Himmler's right hand man Hermann Fegelein, I was curious as to what the actual movie was like. On the stength of that and having a keen interest in films based on world war 2 anyway, I decided to buy a copy of this film, and to say i was amazed was an understaement.
It is a truly magnificent piece of film prtraying extensively Hitler and his Generals in the Bunker in Berlin during the Soviet invasion at the end of WW2 and we get to see how Hitler suffered as he knew his beloved "third reich" was coming to a catastrophic end.
Little known Swiss actor Bruno Ganz plays Hitler, before filming, he conducted months of research on the fallen dictator so he could get the role just right, and from watching this movie, it was all worth it as he did the part justice with a stunning performance, not only portraying a man who was close to going completely insane but also showing a softer sife to Hitler in some cases, watching it made me wonder why he never won an oscar for this performance. The movie itself is not designed to promote any sympathy for him and the evil Nazi regime, just portray in their own vision what the people in that bunker were going through during the final few days of the war.
This film is a must see for any WW2 enthusiast and fans of war movies in general.
on 26 October 2006
Watch it. You have to.
To make sense of what happened.
It moved me.
Hitler was a shockingly 'good' leader in the WORST sense of the word - to make all these people follow him and do all these horrific things. Their loyalty to him is amazing. It shook me up to see how something so dreadful can make such sense to some people. I'm not given the plot away but the bit with the 'children' - sleeping - for the parents to do that, was so scary!! How can people do such a thing? How can people be so deluded?? It is a brilliant film that only can come from Germany - which makes it even more important than these American war movies. It was on the TV the other day and I only caught the last 10 minutes. But even that drew me in. If you are patient with subtitles - watch it. I might read the book.
And the last few lines in the whole thing makes you sick in the stomach. I came out of it, watching it in the cinema - stunned - that human kind could be driven in such a way.
One of the best movies I've ever seen as the effects of this made such an impact on our world.
on 1 October 2006
155 minutes on the death of the most evil man in history? Doesn't sound like the ideal way to pass an evening does it, but please don't miss out on a gripping and absorbing film that is much more than a tyrant's biography. I watched this with my wife, for whom this was definitely not her choice of viewing, but she was as absorbed and moved as I was.
Being unable to use plot twists to hold you, the film engages you on a number of other levels:
First, is the honesty in the writing and performances. Each main character is rounded out as a human being, even if they are insane, deluded or confused. The acting is universally superb - the portrayal of Hitler has received most attention but the three leading women, Goebbels and Himmler are also memorable.
Second is a clever mixture of different perspectives. Hitler is living in an underground bunker but we see him, and events beyond this madhouse, through the eyes of a young secretary, an SS doctor, a boy "soldier" and (briefly) Speer, minister for war industries. We can thus set Hitler planning a massive counter-attack with the reality of children and old men being sent to fight, or to contrast the fate of the bunker-dwellers with the citizens above ground. It also means this is not just about Hitler (he dies with a quarter of the film to go) but the world he created.
Third is the power of the events shown, the most stunning and unwatchable (at least for me) is watching the wife of propaganda minister Goebbels watch a chemist prepare a sleeping potion and a poison for her six young children and then administer it to them.
Finally there is the atmosphere the film creates, such as the unreality of the bunker. Visitors are shown walking through corridors of wounded and dazed soldiers and scared civilians, turning a corner past guards and entering a world where the dinner table is being laid or the Goebbels children are singing as a choir. The slow collapse of morale and order in the bunker, shown most visually as increasing drunkenness which Eva Braun encourages, is really well done.
The film grips you from an early stage and never lets go - while the film is quite long there is hardly a slack moment.
On one level the film is a recreation of the events, principally from two books including the memoirs of the secretary Traudl Junge. On another it is provoking the question - how would I have behaved?
A particular issue is the reaction of the more human and sympathetic characters to Hitler, their `blind spot'. Junge and Eva Braun are portrayed puzzling over this, agreeing Hitler won't let anyone see deep inside him, they find him an enigma. To us, however, he is a man eaten up by rage, hatred and mental illness - there is tiny, tiny kernel of humanity left that gives him his affection for his loyal staff and his dog. It is slightly unsatisfying the film can't reconcile these two points of view.
The film's best shot at this is Braun pleading for the life of her brother-in-law who has abandoned his post in the bunker - Hitler shouts he is a traitor and will be shot. She wipes away her tears, calms herself and says "You are the Fuhrer". It seems symbolic of how Germans addressed everything. Hitler did not personally hypnotise every one of them - he created a society in which xenophobia was idealised and pity and compassion were weaknesses.
The controversy of the film seems to be that everyone involved was not portrayed as a complete villain all the time - but from eyewitness accounts and from what we know of human nature that's simply not realistic - so is it worse to show Hitler could behave in an avuncular way or to distort him into 24/7 Evil that simply invites a counter-reaction that he couldn't have been so bad? If you want a damning indictment of Nazism `Schindler's List' is the film for you - this is trying to do something slightly different.
Some people have pointed out we should feel much more ambiguous about the "sympathetic" characters - did Junge know as little as she claims? What murky events are there in the SS doctor's past? What about Speer using slave labour in his industries? But some of this ambiguity is addressed: the events of 1945 end with Junge and the boy escaping Berlin and riding through an ideal countryside starting to relax. You are just wondering what sort of a cheesy ending this is when we cut to Junge as an old woman saying when she found out about the Holocaust she could not relate it to her work for Hitler. Then one day she saw a memorial to a girl of her age who was sent to her death at the same time as she (Junge) went to work for Hitler ...
As a British viewer I found this film engrossing, powerful and moving. I cannot imagine what the experience must be like to watch it as a German of today.