Thursday, 27 January 2011

Downfall (2004) - Oliver Hirschbiegel

You know how sometimes a film is released and everyone flips out about it, and tells you that you have to see it, 'since it's simple divine dahhhhrling'? Well that's what this film was for me, and like all of those films, I have to let the fuss die down before settling down to watch it. I like to go in with as little preconceived notions as possible. So here I am a full seven years later finally being able to say that I have seen Downfall

It was well worth the wait. Of course like all those other films that people have told me I have to see, it was worth seeing. For those who haven't heard of Downfall, it is about Hitler's final days on Earth. It's not a comedy. In fact it's a tough watch in a way, since the cast are so incredibly good at making you believe that this is all actually happening. I found myself drawn into the film by the end of the opening scene. Hirschbiegel has crafted a harsh unflinching depressing as hell film, out of a subject that I would have thought wouldn't appeal to most. Obviously having a German make a film about this and thus having all the characters speaking in their native tongue is a bonus. The film sucks you in from the get go, there's none of the silliness that often crops up in these bio films, no condensing events to save time, no changing names to protect the innocent. The film is even bookended by an interview with Traudl Junge who wrote one of the books that this was based on, and who was Hitler's secretary during this period. As I said, comedy this ain't. The script feels real, which is a good thing considering the amount of research the writers have obviously done.

Having Bruno Ganz play Hitler is an absolute masterstroke of casting, I would never have believed it if I hadn't seen it, but he is note perfect and brings gravitas to the role, as does Ulrich Matthes as Goebbels. Everyone is marvelous, there is none of your scene stealing style acting here, no Pacino histrionics, just earthy acting. As I say Ganz is superb, fleshing out the man monster and showing the human side that is so often lost when others play Hitler. That's not to say he is portrayed as Uncle Adolf, but obviously even a sadistic mass murdering animal like Hitler had a human side. Seeing him crumble and lose the plot is like seeing a fight between a couple of drunks, you feel like you should look away but can't because it's such compulsive viewing.

The film is long and unrelenting, the scene where Magda Goebbels murders her own children could be one of the ten most upsetting scenes in cinema history. Hirschbiegel doesn't try anything flash, it's the actors who are selling the film here, so the good thing with the camerawork is that it doesn't draw attention to itself, same goes for the editing. So if you haven't seen this (and no those You Tube clips of the Führer getting miffed about his X-Box don't count), then do because everyone should. War is hell, we know 'cos Steven Spielberg keeps telling us. 50,000,000 people died in WWII. 50,000,000. How did that happen? Why did that happen? How can people still fight after the insanity of that is still so fresh in our minds? These are the sort of questions that will play on your mind when watching this, and the thing is it's important to step back and remember sometimes just what happened. Never forget they say, and I for one agree. Essential viewing.

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