Sunday, May 3, 2009

Greatest war movies, No 8 "Downfall"

Downfall or "Der Untergang" is the 2004 German made masterpiece about the final two weeks of Adolf Hitlers life in the Fuhrer bunker. In a truly magnificent performance by Bruno Ganz (above) as Hitler we see the dictator descend into near madness as he gives orders to non existent divisions to defend the city. The movie begins with the inhabitants of the bunker being woken by the sound of artillery fire landing on the city which obviously means that the Russians are close. Hitler is furious with his staff on learning that the Red Army is only 12 Kilometers away. Before long we are witnessing near apocalyptic scenes amid the rubble of Berlin as savage and desperate street fighting ensues. We also see the desperate plight of German civilians that Hitler refuses to allow be evacuated. He callously declares that "Germany's best have already fallen, what happens to the rest is inconsequential". As somebody who has read Antony Beevor's Battle of Berlin and also toured the battle sites in the German capital I was fascinated how this movie depicted the utter horror of the second world wars final battle in Europe. However it is in the Fuhrer bunker itself where the most memorable scenes take place.

We see Josef and Magda Goebels, Albert Speer, Heinrich Himmler, Martin Bormann and Hermann Goering and others as they all try to come to terms with the end. Some accept it, others do not. Many in the bunker shoot themselves. But the most sickening story is that of the utterly psychotic Magda Goebels who decides to murder her six children rather than let them live in a world without a third Reich. In a chilling scene we see her drug and poison her own children. Incidentally the murders are witnessed by Rochus Misch (pictured at the modern day site of the bunker), the only man who was in the bunker that is still living today. The 91 year old is the last living witness to one of the most pivotal moments in world history.

The Germans don't make many movies about World War Two for obvious reasons but this one is spot on. It is an absolute must for any war movie fan or history buff. Historically accurate in a military sense it also does a brilliant job of portraying the madness of Nazism and the evil personalities that lay behind it.


Zaki said...

Good choice Ted. This film would make my 10 best. Bruno Ganz was exceptional...unbeleivable performance.

On the same vein of the last days of Hilter's life, there is another film equally good but not as good as the "Downfall" is the film "Moloch" by the famous Russian director Alexander. Sokurov. It is more controversial in that the director try to show the more mundane "human" side of Hitler's last day with his claims about his obsessions with things like sex, the arts, eating, defecating, and other claims of people and others cultures and so on...Well I am not sure Sokurov succeeded in making Hilter either bad or worst... The voice dubbing in German was not as good, I think all the actors were Russians..

Sokurov also did a film (recently released 2003? and which I have not been able to see) about the last days of Japanese Emperor Hirohito.

Ted Leddy said...


Glad you liked my number 8.

I have never seen "Moloch" but I will certainly look out for it. I don't have a problem with anybody trying to show the more mundane side of a man like Hitler. Evil is not always that simple to identify. Dictators don't foam at the mouth. Im sure Hitler could be polite and pleasant at times, showing such a side to him does not in any way lessen how evil he was.

I would also like to see Sokurov's movie on Hirohito as I have read much about the emperor. Thanks as always Zaki for your wise and interesting comment.