Joe Hendren

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Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Movie Review: Downfall

Tonight I went to see Downfall: Hitler and the End of the Third Reich. Mostly set in the narrow passageways of the Berlin underground bunker Hitler and his staff occupied during the final days of the war, the film is loosely based on 'Until the Final Hour', the memoirs of Hitler's young secretary, Traudl Junge.

The film is at one gripping and slow moving, fascinating yet uncomfortable. A word of warning this film does not attempt to santise war for cinematic consumption. A gritty realism allows the film the latitude of a news report (the emergency surgery is especially brutal). The approach works well.

Downfall is a first rate political film at its most personal. The demands of loyalty jarred with reality, and each person in the bunker had to find a way to swim the uncomfortable waves of doubt and emotion. Some kept their faith in the armed forces, and looked like jingoistic fools. Other sycophants agreed with Hitler's every madness, and kept their glib optimism even when the boss had given up. Himmler looked to negotiate peace, driven by his desire to hold on to power, even if this was at Hitler's expense. Dr. Schenck appears as one of the few heroes, as he desperately attempts to save soliders and civilians.

But Hitler made the greatest betrayal of all with his complete lack of concern for the civilians of Berlin, when he lambasted humanity and compassion as a weakness - that the strong ought to crush the weak - schoolboy Nietzsche. Hitler angrily raged that all the best Germans were already dead.

Bruno Ganz gives a gripping and very believable portrayal of Hitler in his final hours. While Ganz is gaining a lot of attention for his amazing performance, I hope this does not overshadow the outstanding standard of the rest of the cast. I really like the way Downfall does not restrict itself to dealing with the cognitive dissonance and emotion of only a few characters - as this gives the film a lot more depth and interest.

If anyone is ever in Berlin I would highly recommend the walking tours. Many of the older buildings still have bullet holes dating from 1945. Hitler's bunker was destroyed in order that it did not become a monument - the surface area is now a carpark of an apartment building.

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At 2:55 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If anyone is ever in Berlin I would highly recommend the walking tours.

Been there, done that. Living in Europe (although possibly "growing up behind the iron curtain" would be more adequate) I had the chance to see the two Berlins in the late 1980s, and Berlin after the unification.

Actually lately we talked a lot about you, pondering what happened to you after taking the airport bus at Jeongbalsan station last summer and when I found this site I decided to leave a line or two.

All the best, Alexandra

At 3:08 pm, Blogger Joe Hendren said...

Hi Alex, good to hear from you. I assume you are still in Korea with Mel. Will give you an email :)

At 4:49 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great. Martin will be delighted with your mail.:)

At 4:52 pm, Blogger Joe Hendren said...

Now that I think about it I think you might be right about the apartment block no longer being there.

Unfortunately I lost one of my cameras while I was in Berlin in 2002 (a disposable thankfully) so in order to give people an idea of what the site looks like now I found one on the google search

At 1:55 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was stationed in Berlin in 1974-1975 with U.S.Berlin Brigade.Been to the wall several times and also had to stand guard over Rudolf Hess at Spandua Prison with the three powers.Hess walked up to my tower on several occasions.SPOOKY!We were not allowed to go to close to Hitlers Bunker though for a bobwire fence surrounded it.The houses on the east side were bullet riduled and the east germans still guarded it.Hope this sheds some light!


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