The Downfall

Eminently worth seeing.

Enough has been written about Adolph Hitler, but not enough for the screen. There need be no more after you see "The Downfall" grimly presenting the Fuhrer's last days of his life in 1945 in his bunker. Bruno Ganz is the definitive Hitler: morose, fitful, tender, murderous, and demented. Ganz not only looks like Hitler, but he also inhabits his character with passion and possibly an understanding of his premiere place in the halls of historical hooligans. (The chance that Ganz does too close an interpretation is possible for the purists.)

Ganz is able at the same time to flesh out some charm and warmth without a measure of sympathy for a certifiable despot. The scene where her hires his secretary (the only one not in the bunker area), Traudl Junge (Alexandra Maria Lara), has a tenderness uncharacteristic of the public tyrant. This screenplay depends partly on that secretary's memoirs.

Screenwriter Bernd Eichinger provides the dialogue that reveals the madness; for example: "If the war is lost, it is immaterial if the German people survive. I will shed not one tear for them." Eichinger adds insights about the willingness of the German people to be led by Hitler, who worked their racism and Xenophobia into a scheme of world domination only to have the world unify against them.

Director Oliver Hirschbiegel guides a stunningly believable scene showing the horrible obedience to Hitler that allowed the Goebbels parents to poison their children rather than live in a "world without National Socialism." Magda Goebbels goes beyond Medea when she transforms her six children into corpses with a deft movement too macabre to be described in words. The softness of the children and the cool of Magda's tormented act are more than the luck of good acting; they depend on a perfect mise en scene only a director can create.

Escaping Hitler but not banality, Heinrich Himmler wonders, "When I meet Churchill, should I give the Nazi salute, or shake his hand?" Equally clueless but not without insight about the madman's character is Eva Braun, Hitler's new wife, when she says to his secretary, "He only talks about dogs and vegetarian meals. He doesn't want anyone to see deep inside of him."

Nominated for best foreign language film of 2004, The Downfall takes us deep inside the bunker and partially into the depth of Hitler. It's not pretty there, but it is eminently worth seeing.