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IMDb page here. DVD given to me by mr_flay. Watched with Mum.

This is a very moving and powerful portrayal of the final few days in Hitler's bunker at the end of the Second World War, based chiefly on the memoirs of Traudl Junge, who was his private secretary at the time.

Its power rests mainly in its very straightforward telling of the story. There are no attempts to demonise any of the characters, or to draw explicit moralising judgements. Obviously, that would be ham-fisted and naive in the circumstances. Instead, all of the characters presented are extremely human, with all the complexity and contradiction that entails. And this makes the desperation of their situation, and the horror and futility of the lives being destroyed on all sides, ten times more devastating to watch, as well as making the horror of the things some of them are doing (like Magda Goebbels coldly and systematically murdering all six of her own children, because she did not want them to live in a world without National Socialism) far more immediate.

I was interested by a scene fairly early on in the film, in which Hitler presides over a model of a future Berlin which he has had built, talking about how what people really need are great monuments to inspire them, and how the Allied bombing will make it all the easier to put his new vision for the city in place. It reminded me very powerfully of the scenes in Quo Vadis in which Nero does much the same for Rome, including casting the fire of AD 64 in the same role as the bombs. This probably isn't coincidence, because Quo Vadis works quite hard at drawing links between Nero and Hitler, including for example scenes where Nero gives a straight-armed salute to troops marching by (and meanwhile, another 20th-century dictator is referenced by the fact that the actual model of Rome which Nero is crowing over in the film was originally built on the orders of Mussolini). What I don't know is whether the scene in Downfall is historically attested for Hitler, and was used for that reason as part of the characterisation of Nero in Quo Vadis, or whether things have come full circle, and portrayals of Nero are now being used to help characterise Hitler. I presume the former, since Downfall is clearly very well-researched - but either way, it was a very effective means of conveying the extent of Hitler's self-delusion at this time.

One thing did give me pause for thought when I hit Wikipedia after the film for information about the real Traudl Junge, though. As I said, the film presents itself as a historically-accurate account, and reinforces this by naming the two main books it was based on in the opening credits, and by framing the dramatisation between two short documentary clips of Traudl Junge herself talking to camera, filmed before her death in 2002. But its portrayal of her fate after she leaves the bunker deviates from the reality of her story. We see her walking safely through the lines of Russian troops who are occupying the city, and in fact being saved from the apparent lustful intentions of one of them by a young boy, who chooses that moment to take her hand and walk with her to safety. After that, the boy finds an abandoned bicycle, and the two of them sail off down sunlit country lanes to a new life. In reality, though, she and other female members of Hitler's staff were found in a cellar by Russian troops, and raped repeatedly before being kept as a prisoner of war for at least a year.

I can kind of see what the film-makers were doing here, in that they needed some way of demonstrating that the war was over, the world had changed, and Germany (represented in particular by the young boy) could now move forward into a better future. But I also felt that it did a disservice to the reality of Traudl Junge's experiences, undermined the impact of the rest of the events portrayed, and indeed fell into the trap of suggesting that once the Nasty Demon in the Bunker has fallen, everything will be all right. Since they'd done such a good job of avoiding that very simplistic line throughout the rest of the film, it was a bit disappointing to see it implied at the end.

Still, on the whole, an excellent film, which I would really recommend.


( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 1st, 2008 05:51 pm (UTC)
Downfall really is a mindblowing film - excellently researched with top notch acting. I admire the fact it neither sentimentalises or demonises Hitler - it shows him as someone complex, intelligent, and highly frustrated by the end. I do agree with you though that the ending is a little saccharine and not really needed. And as I haven't seen it for about a year, I need to do a rewatch!
Jul. 1st, 2008 06:34 pm (UTC)
Yes, I thought Bruno Ganz as Hitler was amazing. It must be a very difficult role to play without lapsing into stereotype, but I thought he really got across the human dimensions of the character.
Jul. 1st, 2008 06:47 pm (UTC)
Another film you might like to try - assuming of course, you haven't seen it, so if you have please ignore this! - is Max, a fictionalised account of the relationship between Max Rotherman, a wealthy Jewish art expert, and a young Hitler, a struggling, penniless artist. Whilst the idea peddled is that Hitler was a failed artist, and therefore had to become a dictator is simplistic, it does show that Hitler was not born a monster, but became one. The detail given to the dying embers of the Weimar Republic in the film is superb - its worth watching for just the sets alone.
Jul. 1st, 2008 05:57 pm (UTC)
Broadly speaking, the scenes between Hitler and Speer are accurate - see, for example, the excellent Speer und er for more on that relationship (rather obviously focused on Speer's life).
Jul. 1st, 2008 06:28 pm (UTC)
Ah, thanks for that. Very interesting.
Jul. 1st, 2008 06:51 pm (UTC)
Did he admit directly to Hitler that he had disobeyed the destruction orders?
Jul. 1st, 2008 06:56 pm (UTC)
According to Wikipedia, he did.
Jul. 1st, 2008 07:04 pm (UTC)
I had doubts about that, but fair enough.
Jul. 1st, 2008 07:13 pm (UTC)
Yes, it does seem like a hell of a risky thing to do! The Wikipedia article reports that he wrote about telling Hitler of his disobedience in his autobiography - which of course does mean that unless there's some other independent source to corroborate what he says, then it's quite possible that he invented the story in order to make himself out as a hero who stood up to Hitler. But still, what they showed in the film is at least an accurate reflection of a primary source.
(Deleted comment)
Jul. 1st, 2008 06:31 pm (UTC)
It's unsettling to find oneself empathising [with] Hitler.

Yes. Important, though, I thought. If we just see him as a monster, it's too easy to assume no-one like him could ever 'happen' again, or that it would be easy to recognise if they did. Recognising him as human undercuts that simplistic view - and actually makes what he did far more terrifying, I think.
Jul. 1st, 2008 06:38 pm (UTC)
I had no idea that was what really happened to her.
Jul. 1st, 2008 06:42 pm (UTC)
Me neither, I found the film uncomfortably engrossing and the bit where Magda Goebbels kills her children truly terrifying.
Jul. 1st, 2008 06:50 pm (UTC)
Yes, that seems to have been a stand-out scene for a lot of people.
Jul. 1st, 2008 08:33 pm (UTC)
I wonder if she also feared that her children would suffer at the hands of the allied forces.
I almost wrote 'for the crimes she had been complicit in' but then realised she wouldn't have viwed them as crimes but as in her mind - justifiable actions.
Jul. 1st, 2008 06:49 pm (UTC)
I agree with you about the end, but loved the film overall. The Goebbels actor impressed me in particular. When Monke challenged him about putting untrained personnel into the field, the way he defended it with instinctive propaganda initially, and then just admitted that he had no sympathy with them was chilling. I was perhaps most struck by the total absence of justice. Psychotic murderers rubbed shoulders with normal, caring people. Who lived and who died was largely a matter of chance.

Edited at 2008-07-01 06:49 pm (UTC)
Jul. 1st, 2008 06:55 pm (UTC)
Yes, I agree about the absence of justice and the emphasis on chance. I think that's partly why I felt annoyed about the change they made to the ending, actually. Everything was so brutal up to then, and then the film seemed to cop out at the last moment, and award an unrealistic 'happy ending' to the innocent young secretary.
Jul. 1st, 2008 08:25 pm (UTC)
An excellent film- the bloke who plays Hitler is amazing in the role and apparently studied for the vocal characteristics of it not by watching Nuremberg Sieg Heil- fests, but from a few surviving sound recordings of Hitler having non-shouty conversations.

I went to see it when it came out and bought the DVD. Both of them are subtitled in American English, but the version that was on the telly a while back had a different set of subtitiles in proper English. Perhaps C4 feared the wrath of language purists and had another set done?
Jul. 1st, 2008 09:25 pm (UTC)
Aye - I read that he went and observed patients with Parkinson's as well, to get the hand-tremor right. And given that my aunt, who unfortunately has Parkinson's herself, came round right after we finished watching the film, I can testify through comparison to her that he'd got it spot on.
Jul. 12th, 2008 11:41 am (UTC)
Here via nwhyte

I wonder if the decision to soften the fate of Traudl Junge was out of a fear of making the audience too sympathetic towards Nazism, by having a film that had, for good reasons, not actually shown any Nazi atrocities against non-Nazis naturalistically then show a traumatic scene of sexual violence by the other side. (Add that it's still difficult, I think, to discuss Soviet and other atrocities against Axis civilians in 1945 and after without coming across as minimising Nazi crimes if not supporting Nazism.)
Jul. 12th, 2008 12:13 pm (UTC)
Yes, good points. I can very much imagine that those would have been the factors behind it. I think I'd still have preferred the moral ambiguity, and of course the realism, that would have come out of showing what actually happened to her. But now you've pointed out the imbalance that would have created, I'm closer than I was before to seeing why the decision was made.
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