Downfall – a movie review
Berlin, 1945. The Russian Red Army are closing in on the tired, war-weary city, while the Fuhrer Adolf Hitler raves in an underground bunker and slips into madness and depression. This is the setting of the 2004 German film Downfall (or Der Untergang) and the film tries very hard to have a realistic and vaguely sympathetic depiction of the end of the Second World War in Europe, the Battle for Berlin, and Adolf Hitler’s state of mind.
A cynical person might think something would be strange about a German film portraying this period of history in such a way, but this film is actually very natural with this subject. This film is, I think, a great sign, as it shows a maturity in German cinema – and in cinema in general – which is very refreshing. Also, the fact that this film is spoken in German adds a more realistic feel to the film, unlike other films about this conflict which involve Russians or Germans conversing in English and with either British or American accents. The Germans, who are obviously the focus of this film, are often fully developed characters with flows, a sense of humour, and a moral ambiguity which makes many of the characters very memorable.
However, this does not apply to every character in the film, but considering the sheer number of characters in this film it would be very difficult to give equal light to every story thread. The film is very long though, over three hours, and yet not every story thread is fully explored, or fully rapped with the main plot. The film tries to do too much and very often suffers for it, but the viewer never loses track of the overall story. I will not here give a summary of the plot, the story is so well known it seems pointless and it would be much better to simply watch the film anyway.
The before mentioned moral ambiguity of the film is perhaps where the film draws a lot of its power. It gives a sense of humanity to the characters, even to Adolf Hitler, who is played excellently by Bruno Ganz. The overall effect of this is to make you appreciate the sophistication of the film, which is very welcome when compared to other films about the period.
Downfall is also a very well made film. Some moments are almost Lynchian in their nightmarish atmosphere and intensity, whereas other scenes (especially of street fighting) are amazingly intense. But saying this there is a lot in the film that betrays its origin. A lot of the explosions, especially near the beginning, are clearly CGI which takes away much of their intended impact.
The film, then, is very much worth watching. However, the length of the film could turn many away from it, and some might find it difficult following every story thread. However, if you do sit through the film you might find a unique, satisfying and very sophisticated take on the end of the Second World War in Europe.
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