Downfall

DOWNFALL
(DER UNTERGANG) 2004

Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl



Told from the point of view of Hitler's young stenographer Traudl Junge (Alexandra Maria Lara), Downfall chronicles the last days of Hitler, holed up in the bunker. I love actor Bruno Ganz, so hated seeing the same guy who was a recording angel in Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire playing such a monster as Hitler, though certainly the performance can't be faulted.

Catastrophe by catastrophe reported to the fuhrer causes him seemingly to shrink scene by scene until he is a hunchbacked, pasty-faced, palsied wreck ready to commit suicide. Not since Klaus Kinsky played Aguirre, the Wrath of God at an increasing physical tilt as the film progressed has symbolic body-language been so exaggeratedly artful in a film. But lest we feel even slight pity for the deteriorating beast, he periodically erupts into madness & pride for the deeds of his life.

There is certainly an impression of realism as to how life & attempted government functioned from the bunker. At its epic length I'm surprised the film never actually got boring, as Ganz' portrayal of an evil man wasting away is riviting in a demented sort of way, & the historicity of the thing has inescapable drama & horror. But Hitler's suicide occurs well before the end of the story & to some degree it all runs out of steam when Ganz's performance is no longer center-stage.

Although unquestionably a fine film, it requires pity for Germans who loved & obeyed a madman. The script & Ganz' performance does try to convey some bits of an affectionate charisma that might explain why this appalling figure was so deeply loved by his followers, but for me this failed. I could not grasp the emotional underpinning that permitted so many people to love, admire, & pander to a monster right up to his last living breath. I felt no pity for these Germans in the least.

While certainly no big whitewash -- no redemptions, no guilt-ridden confessions of evil -- there's also no admission that this outcome was just. There's a one-sided tone of brutality toward Germany that comes off as the whining of a killer on the way to the gallows bitter for having to suffer & die. There is no aspect of irony about the woe-is-me selfish terror of defeated nazis. It's presented as merely factual, that Germans were sad, injured, & afraid.

The deep horror of Magda Goebbels (Corinna Harfouch) driven by her fanaticism & misery to kill her own children is the film's only greatly shocking sequence, but even this is a phony trivial horror compared to what these people did to others.

The literal content permits the viewer never to glimpse the actual victims of Teutonic perfidy, beyond the tragedy for themselves & their own children. Since the story was told not only from inside the bunker but from within the perspective of people who never questioned the course of their country, there is never a moment when nation or any character ever confronts itself for what it is. I felt in no way rewarded to have seen this film. By its whinging & its lack of self-awareness it seems to indicate that Germany is now, as it was then, unrepentant.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl



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