WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
Downfall is a disturbing film about the Third Reich’s final days, portraying complete and utter destruction surrounding Hitler and his closest people as the entire Nazi regime collapses around them in the most brutal fashion. It is mostly perceived through the eyes of Hitler's personal secretary, Traudl Junge, who was only 22 when the Nazi dictator hired her in 1942. She stayed loyal to him until his dying day. Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars and based on Joachim Fest's book, “Inside Hitler’s Bunker”, and the volume “Bis Zur Letzten Stunde” by Traudl Junge and Melissa Müller, this historical depiction of Hitler’s last days is a very realistic and seemingly accurate look into what it was like to be there in the bunker, the Death Chamber, as the days numbered to a close and everything is in ruins around you and it’s the time of the Downfall.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
In April 1945, Hitler (Bruno Ganz) and his friends and staff were hiding beneath Berlin in a specially constructed bunker while above them the city was being destroyed and the Russian army was advancing, closer and closer by the day. The final moment was near as all was lost, and everyone inside the bunker knew it. The feeling one gets while watching is one of fear, horror and suspense, so you can imagine what it was like in real life, very scary. The thing that grabbed me the most was the feeling of actually being there, and of the characters almost being real, such were their portrayals. Very atmospheric, this film is almost eerie, and especially the focal point of the movie, the Fuhrer, played by the very talented Bruno Ganz. Ganz gives a powerful performance playing Hitler and he looks amazingly “real”, sounding and acting so much like the real Fuhrer would that it only added to the “real” feeling one gets watching this. The controversial aspect here lies in the depiction of Hitler as a human being who was kind to his dogs and secretaries, but who was also a monster hell-bent on his own insanity and the absolute power rule. It was a fine line that Ganz pulled off perfectly.
The amazing supporting cast was comprised, among others, of Juliane Köhler who played Hitler’s mistress/wife Eva Braun to the letter, and was part caretaker of the bunker, part party-girl. But one of the most fascinating characters of all was played by Corrina Harfouch as Magda Goebbels, Josef Goebbels’ wife, most notably in the scene where she’d kill her children rather than let them live in world without National Socialism. The acting by everyone is truthful and passionate and is one of the best elements in the film as well as its moody and realistic atmosphere. Since a lot of the movie is based on the late Traudl Junge's memories and on her observations from almost six decades ago, one can’t be certain that all is accurately portrayed, of course, but this film really nailed it which is important for historical reasons, unlike movies that are not based on fact.
Not always an easy film to watch, I was more than disturbed by the very graphic scene of Frau Goebbels committing murder on her six children by placing cyanide capsules in their mouths as they slept. Harfouch’s cold, chilling performance was by far the heaviest scene in the film. I also was taken aback with Goebbels’ speech in the film, which was frightening. How he could have such little sympathy for the German people, his own people, simply boggles the mind. There are other intense moments in this film, but all in all, I believe it’s crucial to still view such films, hard as it may be, because it teaches us things that may prevent such horrors from ever taking place again. The other thing about this film is that the characters were often poorly introduced and thus this was confusing for anyone trying to understand an already difficult subject. Lastly, I did find the movie to be too long and the subtitles were not a plus for me. With that, the sufferings of the Germans are well portrayed in the end stages of the war, with a cruel visual image of the slaughter, the suicide, the apocalyptic destruction of Berlin. The last section of the film contains documentary footage of Hitler's secretary from “Blind Spot” where she talks about the part she played in Hitler’s regime. I found her words to be piercingly haunting, and it gave a good message at the end, because she had, finally, acknowledged the truth.
Audio Commentary by Director Oliver Hirschbiegel: The director discusses more of the historical aspects which might be of interest to some people, as well as a lot of the behind the scenes details of the making of the film. I found it to be a bit too much after such a long movie, but some of you might love it for it is a well-done commentary.
Making of Downfall: Intercut with real footage, old and new, as well as full of interviews with the major players in this film, this feature is a well-deserved bonus to this historical film, as well as filling in some of the blanks. Very detailed, it’s about an hour long with subtitles.
Cast & Crew Interviews: The interviews are all included in the “Making of” feature, so this bonus is a bit irrelevant unless you skip the above-mentioned feature.
This film is not for everybody, but if you’re ready to see a 2 1/2 hour German film with subtitles, then this film will show you with a convincing level of accuracy what it looks like when an entire regime falls apart and cities and people alike crumble and die all around. It will leave you with a clear impression of what a twisted individual Hitler was, (and a lot of his cronies, too) and give you an idea of what their bizarre final moments were like. That said, it confused me too as I was left questioning myself as to why the Germans would blindly follow Hitler even at that horrible point when they must’ve realized that they too were victims of his brutality (Stanley Kramer's "Judgment at Nuremberg" comes to mind). The DVD package is well put together, with two features that would interest any WWII or Nazi Germany buff, or someone who just enjoys historical German movies, whatever the case. The overall feel is that this film is completely well-made and executed and is a seriously important film that should be checked out.