Friday, February 09, 2018

Downfall (2004 film)

Based on the books Inside Hitler’s Bunker by Joachim Fest and Until the Final Hour by Traudl Junge and Melissa Muller, Der Untergang (Downfall) is the story of the final ten days of Adolf Hitler as he struggles to survive while hiding in his bunker with officers, close friends, and various others. Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel and screenplay by Bernd Eichinger, the film follows these final ten days as it is told from the perspective of Hitler’s personal secretary in Traudl Junge who is played by Alexandra Maria Lara with Bruno Ganz in the role of Adolf Hitler. Also starring Corrina Harfouch, Ulrich Matthes, Juliane Kohler, Heino Ferch, Christian Berkel, Matthias Habich, and Thomas Krestchmann. Der Untergang is a riveting and chilling film from Oliver Hirschbiegel.

The film explores the final days in the life of Adolf Hitler who is hiding in his bunker in Berlin hoping for a way to push the Russians back and continue to pursue a future for Germany. Yet, he would endure news about betrayals, setbacks, and other things that would force him to come to terms that his future plans for Germany might not happen after all where those closest to him including his personal secretary Traudl Junge wonder what will happen. Bernd Eichinger’s screenplay opens with Junge’s first meeting with Hitler in late 1942 at a secret bunker in East Prussia where she is among the slew of women answering a job interview to be his personal secretary. There, she sees a kindness and patience in Hitler where it is surprising and then the film’s narrative shifts to late April of 1945 in Berlin where the Germans are being surrounded by the Russians. Much of the film’s narrative revolve around what is happening at Hitler’s bunker and the number of generals and officials dealing with dwindling forces and growing casualties.

The first act is set in the bunker and the government building nearby where everyone is trying to figure out what to do while Hitler’s longtime partner Eva Braun (Juliane Kohler) tries to raise up morale at one point in having a party to celebrate Hitler’s birthday. The first act would end when Hitler realizes the severity of his situation when his forces are unable to stop the Russians from coming where he just couldn’t believe that all hope is lost. Eichinger’s script doesn’t just follow Hitler coping with this impending sense of loss and anger but also showing sides of him that do showcase a sense of humanity in someone that was a monster. Even in how he would have his pet German Shepard eat a cyanide capsule rather than shooting it as well as scenes where he converses with Junge about his plans for the future and for Germany which he realizes will never happen.

During the course of the film, the number of politicians and military officers would betray Hitler thinking he’s lost his mind while some of them are trying to instill their own rule as it angers Hitler who becomes aware of how powerless he is. The film’s third act isn’t just about Hitler’s final day but also the aftermath as it relates to loyalty as well as the few individuals who cope with the end that includes a member of Hitler’s Youth club. Notably as it has Junge trying to get out of the chaos so that she can survive as would others who aren’t military personnel or members of the Nazi party. The third act also play into the idea of surrender with those preferring to end their lives rather than surrender to the Russians and others wanting to live and fight the Russians with some in the middle unsure of what to do.

Oliver Hirschbiegel’s direction opens and ends with footage from the 2002 documentary Im toten Winkel (Blind Spot: Hitler’s Secretary) by Andre Heller and Othmar Schmiderer about Junge who talks about her past as it would play into the life of this woman who would become Hitler’s personal secretary. Shot on various locations in Berlin, Munich, and St. Petersburg, Russia, the film is largely set into an area where it’s falling apart as there aren’t many wide shots in the film except for the many scenes outside of the bunker where a lot of violence is happening as well as people trying to flee Berlin from the Russians who are shooting artillery from afar. Much of Hirschbiegel’s direction takes place in the bunker with some scenes at a palace hall or other building for some parties as it is shot largely with hand-held cameras where characters run through the halls of the bunker. The scene where Hitler receives the bad news about his forces, a legendary scene that inspired many Internet parodies, is intense with its close-ups and medium shots in displaying the anger and hopelessness that Hitler is dealing with.

Hirschbiegel would also maintain this sense of claustrophobia inside the bunkers where everyone is feeling trapped and the need to go outside is very risky where the moments of peace is too brief. Even as there’s stories outside relating to those trying to fight off against the Russians while there’s scenes where there are individuals whose loyalty are being questioned as they’re not in the bunker. Hirschbiegel would slowly build up this air of doom that is coming as it relates to what will happen and its aftermath is filled with a lot more uncertainty. Even as the direction would loosen up to the point that it gets out of the bunker and in other places as well as areas outside of the bunker as it play into the fall of Nazi Germany from the eyes of the woman who had been one of Hitler’s closest allies. Overall, Hirschbiegel creates an entrancing yet eerie film about the final days of Adolf Hitler.

Cinematographer Rainer Klausmann does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography as it feature elements of natural lighting for some of the scenes in the daytime while emphasizing on low-key lights and moods for many of the scenes at the bunker. Editor Hans Funck does excellent work with the editing as it is largely straightforward with some rhythmic cuts to play into the heavier moments in the drama. Production designer Bernd Lepel does amazing work with the interiors of the bunker as well as some of the places around the bunker including the rooms where a few of the officers would live in. Costume designer Claudia Bobsin does fantastic work with the costumes from the uniforms of the officers to the stylish dresses that the women wore in those times. Visual effects supervisor Thomas Zauner does terrific work with the visual effects as it is mainly bits of set dressing for many of the exteriors in the film. Sound designers Stefan Buch and Nico Krebs do superb work with the sound as it play into the atmosphere of war with sounds of artillery shells flying or alarms as it help create this sense of unease in the film. The film’s music by Stephan Zacharias is wonderful for its low-key orchestral score with elements of bombastic arrangements and somber themes to play into the drama.

The casting by An Dorthe Braker is incredible as it feature some notable small roles from Bettina Redlich as Hitler’s cook Constanze Manzilary, Ulrich Noethen as the smarmy Nazi party leader Heinrich Himmeler whom Hitler doesn’t like, Rolf Kanies as General Hans Krebs, Justus von Dohnanyi as Hitler’s chief adjutant General Wilhelm Burgdorf, Christian Hoening as Hitler’s physician Ernst-Robert Grawitz, Thorsten Krohn as Dr. Ludwig Stumpfhegger, and Gotz Otto as the SS officer Otto Gunsche who would watch over the burning of the bodies of Hitler and Braun. Birgit Minichmayr is terrific as one of Hitler’s secretaries Gerda Christian while Christian Berkel is superb as the SS doctor/physician Dr. Ernst-Gunther Schenck as a man trying to save the wounded and ailing whether they’re soldiers or regular people. Heino Ferch is excellent as Hitler’s chief architect Albert Speer who makes a brief visit to the bunker to talk to Hitler and Braun where he tries to raise their morale but also realizes what is coming. Thomas Krestchmann is fantastic as the SS officer Hermann Fegelein as a man that is Eva Braun’s brother-in-law who has been accused of desertion while not carrying out orders for Hitler.

Juliane Kohler is wonderful as Eva Braun as Hitler’s longtime lover who tries to raise morale at the bunker only to face the reality of what is about to happen. Corrina Harfouch is brilliant as Magda Goebbels as the wife of Joseph Goebbels who is loyal to Hitler as she is touched by a present he gives her as she faces the fact of what is to come. Ulrich Matthes is amazing as Joseph Goebbels as Hitler's propaganda official and right-hand man who also deals with the fall of Nazi Germany and what will happen to Hitler as he tries to maintain a dignity as well as make some decisions with his wife about the future of their children. Alexandra Maria Lara is remarkable as Traudl Junge as Hitler’s personal secretary who is trying to understand what is going on as well as ponder if she should survive as well as be Hitler’s most trusted person as she is willing to help him prepare for his impending death. Finally, there’s Bruno Ganz in a phenomenal performance as Adolf Hitler as the monstrous Nazi leader who does display a sensitivity and kindness to people who are loyal to him as well as show a frustration and anger when things don’t go his way where Ganz gives the performance of a lifetime in displaying a sense of humanity in one of the most evil figures of the 20th Century.

Der Untergang is a tremendous film from Oliver Hirschbiegel that features great performances from Bruno Ganz and Alexandra Maria Lara. It’s a film that explores a moment in time that shows one of the most vile figures of the 20th Century face his own doom with the people who are close to him watching it all happen. Especially as it showcases what was happening as it is told from someone who was there and managed to cope with her role in history. In the end, Der Untergang is a spectacular film from Oliver Hirschbiegel.

Oliver Hirschbiegel Films: (Das Experiment) – (The Invasion (2007 film)) – (Five Minutes of Heaven) – (Diana (2013 film)) – (13 Minutes)

© thevoid99 2018


Brittani Burnham said...

I love German films but I haven't seen this one. I'm going to put it on my watch list.

thevoid99 said...

@Brittani-If you have Showtime and its related channels, you can find the film there as I totally recommend it. Even if you're a history buff or see where those Hitler parodies come from.

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