Blindsided by DOWNFALL (DER UNTERGANG) – Review

~ 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.

* * * *

~ Perhaps not so, Happy Viewing this time ~

Brazil is lovely in June.

27 thoughts on “Blindsided by DOWNFALL (DER UNTERGANG) – Review

  1. Fantastic review Jim :)

    I’m also pleased I finally know the origin of the “Hitler is upset over Oasis split” or “Hitler finds out his X-Box live has been cancelled” video spoofs on youtube!

    Liked by 1 person

          1. Ooh that sounds funny!!! I’ll have a look. My family are all West Ham supporters haha I’d like to show my dad!

            The one I always remember well is the ‘Oasis are splitting up’ one but I know there are tons, they are funny though!!!! I remember when he says “leave the room if you don’t think Oasis are the best band ever” ha ha ha !

            (or am I just immature?) :)

            Liked by 1 person

          2. I’ll try and find it and link it on twitter for you. I’ve never seen the Oasis one but I think I can imagine haha, some might say immature, I prefer the term, ‘in touch with a child-like innocent humour’

            Liked by 1 person

  2. Well, here’s a movie I know well. I still have yet to watch it from start to finish in its original context, but I’ve seen most of it thanks to my experience as an Unterganger. If you’re not familiar with “Untertangers” were a group of people on YouTube (some of them are still operational, but the community’s not what it once was) who made humorous videos editing scenes from Downfall. Usually they took a lot of the footage of Hitler ranting and added fake subtitles to put him into hilariously absurd situations. I recall I often liked to do cross-overs that involved Hitler getting into trouble with characters from other movies and even made two spin-off series using footage from Das Boot and Duck, You Sucker.

    I probably should see this one in its original context at some point, it should be an interesting experience. Of course I get the feeling it will take some getting used to Hitler actually managing to catch and kill Fegelein (who in the parodies is his extremely elusive nemesis with reality-warping skills).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha brilliant! Being a West Ham fan there was one particular edit involving Hitler being read the scores from the final day of the premier league, that one I will always remember. But yes you probably should watch it in its entirety, there aren’t too many moments, none really, that cause as much enjoyment or laughter as the Untergangers.


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