Downfall

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Dir. Oliver Hirschbiegel
2004
Downfall reenacts, in excrutiating and claustrophobic detail, the last days of Hitler,
hiding out in his Berlin bunker as his dreams of the Third Reich fell around him and the Russian front got closer.
Yet it’s not a solitary piece–who would want to be with Hitler for more than two hours of screen time?–so Oliver Hirschbiegel’s film follows other characters, the young and wide-eyed secretary, Frau Junge (who became the subject of “Blind Spot”, and the source for much of what happened in the final days), a doctor who has to help the wounded civilians, though the country itself is bleeding internally, black-marbled eyed loonball Joseph Goebbels (and his infanticidal wife, Magda), who will stay by his Fuhrer no matter what, and Eva Braun, glassy-eyed, still trying to live in the dream her dear Adolph has created. There’s also a host of famous and not-so famous Nazis making an appearance: Albert Speer, Heinrich Himmler (beating out even Hitler for worst hair award), and Goering, who is a blink-and-you’ll-miss appearance.
But the center is Bruno Ganz’s Hitler. Hard to believe this is the same actor who plays the angel in Wings of Desire, but there you go. The worry (from some critics) about playing Hitler as a human (which he was) and not as some cartoon monster is that, like all supervillains, audiences will come to sympathize with him. But Ganz and the movie are too clearheaded, and the script objective when it needs to be, that the effect is what it should be: watching a madman in his final days come up against painful reality. Hirshbiegel saves his empathy for those caught up in the conflict, such as the Frau Junge and a young Hitler Youth who gets the sense knocked into him very quickly after surviving the Russian shelling. The real Junge, in a clip taken from “Blind Spot” that ends the film, makes sure that we don’t absolve her too much, noting that Sophie Scholl was the same age as her. “I could have found things out, if I had wanted to,” she says.
The DVD had a perfect 5.1 sound mix, which even on my cheapo “home theater” was very impressive, shocking during the above ground bombardments and scary during the underground sequences, and deep thuds fill the front and back speakers. Very cool.
Anyway, for an unnerving look at a nation falling into madness and coming completely unhinged, Downfall is highly recommended.

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