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Film Review - Downfall (2004)

In a series of illustrated articles, the author gives personal easy-to-read reviews of some of the most watchable films in Hollywood history

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INTRODUCTION

The last days of Adolf Hitler in his Berlin bunker at the end of World War Two, has been discussed many times in books and in documentaries. This movie is the first serious attempt by a German director to tackle this most sensitive aspect of his country's history in a dramatised account.

'Downfall' is a study of life in the bunker and the surrounding streets as the Russians are closing in. It is not so much about the details of the end of the war, though that of course is covered; rather, this is a story about desperate people in very desperate circumstances, and how they each find their own solution to the question of what to do when defeat becomes inevitable.

  • 'Downfall' is presented in the German language, and subtitled in English. But please do not let this put you off watching what is a moving and powerful drama.
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All of my film reviews can be accessed at the following page

  • 100 of the Greatest Movies in History - A Greensleeves Page
    What makes a great film? Everyone will have their own views, but perhaps the only defining quality is quality itself. This, however, is my list of 100 of the greatest films ever made. The list also includes links to all my film reviews.
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WHAT'S THE STORY ?

'Downfall' begins in the forest near Rastenburg in East Prussia (Poland) where Adolf Hitler had his Eastern Front headquarters, nicknamed the 'Wolf's Lair', throughout most of the war. It is November 1942. Five young women are auditioning for the role of Hitler's personal secretary. They wait nervously for the Führer to emerge from his office, and when he does, one by one they are introduced him. Hitler quickly makes his decision; he chooses 22 year old Traudl Humps, largely, it seems, on the basis that she is a Munich girl.

This brief scene is merely a way of introducing Hitler in happier times (for him) and the character of Traudl, upon whose book, this film was partly based. Immediately, the scene changes to 20th April 1945, and Berlin. It is Hitler's 56th birthday, but hardly an occasion for celebration even in his offices in Berlin. Two and a half years has seen Hitler's tyranny and mismanagement of his armed forces bring the country to its knees. The Russians are shelling the city from just 12 kilometres distant. Official documents are being burned, chaos rules as Nazi officials are leaving the ruins, and soldiers are desperately trying to defend their posts. And Hitler is in his bunker.

What follows is a portrayal of Hitler's increasing desperation and confused grasp on reality. All around him are generals who view this situation developing and don't know whether to loyally follow, or to ignore his commands. Also in the bunker are other attendants including Traudl Junge (in the three years since 1942, Traudl had been married to, and been widowed from, Hans Hermann Junge - a soldier killed in France in 1944). And the six children of propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels also arrive.

If life in the bunker is difficult, at least they are shielded from the full horror and carnage of the streets above, where SS Colonel and Doctor Ernst-Gunther Schenck watches the misery of destruction and futile slaughter unfold around him.

The film covers the events of the next two weeks, notably the suicides of Hitler and Eva Braun, and of Joseph Goebbels and his wife, and the murder of their children. Other characters also choose suicide as a way out, whilst some try to negotiate surrender, escape detection, or just carry on and see what fate befalls them when the Russians finally move in. The Battle of Berlin ended on 2nd May. The unconditional surrender of all German forces occurred on 7th May.

Eva Braun with  Adolf Hitler and Albert Speer in the bunker

Eva Braun with Adolf Hitler and Albert Speer in the bunker

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MAIN CAST & CHARACTERS

ACTORCHARACTER

Bruno Ganz

Adolf Hitler

Juliane Kohler

Eva Braun

Alexandra Maria Lara

Traudl Junge

Christian Berkel

Ernst-Gunter Schenck

Ulrich Matthes

Joseph Goebbels

Corinna Harfouch

Magda Goebbels

Heino Ferch

Albert Speer

Dieter Mann

Feldmarschall Keitel

Michael Mendl

General Wiedling

Thomas Kretschmann

Hermann Fegelein

Ulrich Noefen

Heinrich Himmler

FACTS OF THE FILM

DIRECTOR : Oliver Hirschbiegel

WRITERS :

Joachim Fest, Traudl Junge, Melissa Muller (books)

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