~ Downfall is the Blind Spot entry for May. Find the full listing here. ~
"You must be on stage when the curtain falls."
Oliver Hierschbiegel’s biographical review of Hitler’s Downfall stuns the viewer into unwilling emotional distress. Captivated by Bruno Ganz’ chillingly authentic performance Hitler is given a human resonance in his final days but Hierschbiegel’s defining direction never strays from the monster beneath.
Opening with archival interview footage of Traudl Junge, Hitler’s final private secretary, she expresses her guilt toward her involvement in the Third Reich and her admiration for Adolf Hitler. Like so many impressionable youths of the time Junge was not alone in her misguided idealism, yet due to the sensitive subject little has been created by way of telling their story. Such idealism is captured incisively by Hierschbiegel immediately following Junge’s interview excerpt. A group of young female secretaries have been called to the Wolf’s Lair to interview for the position of private secretary to the Führer. Giddy with apprehension and excitement we catch a glimpse of what it meant to a young German to meet Hitler, an idol to the German masses.
In that sense Downfall is more than just a deeply saddening story about Hitler’s monstrous corruption and brutality. Downfall represents an opportunity to witness first-hand accounts of an array of personnel caught up in Hitler’s finality. Hierschbiegel is clever to avoid partisanship or a biased approach. Every care is taken to ensure the numerous memoirs and accounts are recounted with the utmost authenticity which translates to a harrowing 156 minutes of disillusionment, disengagement, and destruction.
While Hitler’s character study, marked by putrefaction, is central to Downfall‘s approach Hierschbiegel opts on occasion to take the action beyond the claustraphobic confines of Hitler’s Führerbunker. This gives a voice to the many who got caught up in Hitler’s xenophobia and ill-conceived loyalty. With a number of historical accounts and memoirs adding reliability and validity to Hierschbiegel’s unnerving drama each scene is filled with moments of sheer incomprehension that a modern audience struggles to relate to but is nevertheless captivated by.
Even in the moments where Ganz is absent from a scene, there is a perpetuation of fear that dominates the atmosphere, culminating in a terrifying presence when he emerges. Scene after scene Hitler’s degradation is wearing and present to the extent that both the viewer and actors are captured inside his fear and dread, his ultimatum and finality combining to a horrific fatality that edges closer and closer as the shells land and German people fall.The dispassionate banality with which Hitler treats the slaughter of the German people is discomforting to say the least. Downfall isn’t afraid to answer the tough questions or portray haunting facts that permeate the Hitler myth and that of his high command. For that dedication Ganz’ performance is elevated further, even humanising Hitler’s ruthlessness by smattering his idol moments with tranquil contemplation. But without romanticising Hitler’s downfall both Hierschbiegel and Ganz are sure to maintain the monstrosity that is the truth.
This Must-see piece of important film making details the final days of Hitler’s Downfall with unnerving accuracy and sublime performances that leave lasting impressions. Bruno Ganz’ performance is compelling to the extent that Hitler is humanised, on some occasions evoking sympathy within the viewer. But this is not Hierschbiegel’s agenda. The sympathy feels misplaced and we are soon reminded of the evil that shrouds Hitler’s existential awareness. Hierschbiegel’s non-partisan approach ensures the facts are delivered through accounts and memoirs that detail the final days of those closest to Hitler in the Führerbunker until his chilling demise May 1st 1945.
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~ Perhaps not so, Happy Viewing this time ~
Brazil is lovely in June.