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FilmExposed Film Reviews

A FilmExposed Film Review

Downfall (Der Untergang) (15)

Downfall (Der Untergang) (15)

Dir: Oliver Hirschbiegel, 2005, Germany/Italy/Austria, 155 mins, German with English subtitles
Cast: Bruno Ganz, Ulrich Matthes, Juliane Kohler, Alexandra Maria Lara

In late April 1945 the Germans were close to surrender, the Russian tanks were continuing their fated march towards Berlin and Hitler (Ganz) was a man raging at general ineptitude. As the inevitable reared like a pantomime shadow across his battle plans he appeared to accept defeat and made plans for his demise. Reports of treason filtered through and as the Russians began shelling his world we see the end, to all concerned, in wide angled hideous detail.

Production wise this is an incredible achievement. Ruined Berlin, a monument to fallen decadence and destruction, is depicted in sumptuous detail, the bullets whizzing through the wreckage of a dream with immaculate attention to period authenticity. So it's a shame Downfall lacks any vestige of dramatic tension. You would have thought that the final days of such a despotic rule would throw up all sorts of incandescent source material. Not on this evidence. Just lots of people making Pollock prints on the wall with the help of a gun. Hitler shows he's the world's worst dinner party guest spitting with impotent rage over potatoes or explaining to the ladies that it's always better to put the gun in the roof of your mouth for a cleaner kill. At one point he gives his secretary a suicide pill with the words "Sorry I couldn't give you a better present".

Ganz's portrayal is weak even taking into account that this is a man who is losing his men by the second. Significantly better is Goebbels (Matthes) who with his tightly wrapped brown jacket and coal black eyes is the perfect incumbent of evil overseeing the suicide of his children with impassive disregard. All the other generals are interchangeable, equally repugnant, salivating tyrants bellowing lines with ferocity. Unfortunately we don't see much of Hermann Hesse, depicted here as a dissolute playboy indulging in bacchanalian orgies just as the Russians are marching through the city walls.

A thread of a story lies with Traudl Junge (Alexandra Maria Lara), Hitler's secretary, who manages to evade the Russian forces in what could have been filmed as an impetuous escape to freedom. Instead it spools out as an insipid wander through a bunch of dancing Cossacks and then a bike ride through laden hose country as if making it into a picture postcard ending somehow makes up for all the dramatic gravitas atrophied elsewhere. As a film Downfall emerges as a monumental disappointment.


Rob McCrae

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