Downfall (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner30/03/2005

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 120 mins
In German with English subtitles.

Intense, claustrophobic drama with a stunning central performance by Bruno Ganz.

Downfall is based on the memories of Hitler's personal secretary, Traudl Junge, whose story was also memorably documented in 2002's Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary - clips of her are used to bookend this film. It's directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, who made the superlative thriller The Experiment, and it was also deservedly nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar this year.

Masterfully Directed And Stunningly Acted

As such, it's a masterfully directed, stunningly acted drama that's all the more powerful for presenting Hitler as a human being. (The film has attracted widespread criticism for precisely that reason).

Downfall opens in 1942, as Traudl Junge (Alexandra Maria Lara) is chosen by Hitler (Bruno Ganz) to be his personal secretary. It then flashes forwards to 1945 and Hitler's final days in the Berlin bunker, as the Soviet Army closes in.

Hitler is surrounded by his loyal inner circle, which includes, among several others, his mistress, Eva Braun (Juliane Kohler), Junge and Joseph and Magda Goebbels (Ulrich Matthes and Corinna Harfouch), as well as their six children. Over the final days, Hitler descends further and further into suicidal paranoia, raving about betrayal and obsessively planning campaigns with armies that no longer exist.

The film also details Hitler's marriage to Eva Braun and their eventual double suicide, as well as a chilling sequence in which Magda Goebbels drugs and then poisons each of her six children in turn, after declaring that she doesn't want to live in a world without National Socialism.

It is interesting to note that Downfall is Germany's first film about Hitler in nearly 50 years - this goes some way to explaining the level of criticism it has attracted. The film depicts Hitler as a human being - albeit a clearly insane human being - instead of the evil monster that we've come to expect from countless war movies and the like.

The result is extremely powerful, because we recognise the human traits to his madness (obsession, paranoia, stubbornness) and realise how much more frightening it is that this 'monster' was human after all.

Ganz Brilliant As Der Fuhrer

The performances are superb. Bruno Ganz (the sad-eyed actor from Wings of Desire) is terrific as Hitler, fully depicting his physical frailties (his injured hand, his stooped posture, etc) and brilliantly capturing his speech patterns but never allowing the performance to become a caricature. (That said, anyone who saw Uncle Adolf on ITV recently may feel that Ganz had his thunder stolen a little by Ken Stott, who did a similarly brilliant job - in fact, the two films share several scenes).

There's also strong support from Lara (despite the fact that her character is basically an observer) and Kohler, as well as Christian Berkel as Dr Schenck and Ulrich Noethen as Himmler, who wonders aloud whether he should shake Churchill's hand or give him the Nazi salute. Aside from Ganz, however, the standouts are Matthes and Harfouch as the Goebbelses.

In short, this is a powerful, thought-provoking, brilliantly written and directed film that isn't afraid to throw in the odd moment of humour. It's also worth seeing for Ganz's terrific performance. Recommended.

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Content updated: 23/10/2017 21:55

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