Review No. 615
“Der Untergang” ist gut, sehr gut.
|Bruno Ganz||Adolf Hitler|
|Alexandra Maria Lara||Traudl Junge|
|Corinna Harfouch||Magda Goebbels|
|Ulrich Matthes||Joseph Goebbels|
|Juliane Köhler||Eva Braun|
|Heino Ferch||Albert Speer|
|Christian Berkel||Ernst-Günther Schenck|
|Historical Account||“Downfall: Hitler and the End of the Third Reich” (Der Untergang: Hitler und das Ende des Dritten Reiches) by Joachim Fest|
|Based on||“Until the Final Hour” (Bis zur letzten Stunde), memoirs by Traudl Junge, co-written by Melissa Müller|
With the Contributions of
|“Inside the Third Reich” by Albert Speer|
|“Hitler’s Last Days: An Eye-Witness Account” by Gerhardt Bolt|
|“Das Notlazarett Unter Der Reichskanzlei” by Doctor Ernst-Günther Schenck|
|“Soldat: Reflections of a German Soldier, 1936-1949″ by Siegfried Knappe|
|Distributor||Constantin Film (Germany)|
|Premieres||8 September 2004 (Munich) – 10 September 2004 (Vienna)|
|Film Festivals||14 September 2004 (Toronto International) – 27 November 2004 (Bucharest International)|
|Limited Releases||18 February 2005 (NYC) – 25 February 2005 (LA)|
|Wide Releases||16 September 2004 (Germany) – 17 September 2004 (Austria) – 29 April 2005 (Italy)|
|Studio(s)||Newmarket Capital Group|
|Language||German – Russian – Hungarian|
|Country||Germany – Austria – Italy|
|Running Time||136 minutes (extended version runs 22 mins. longer)|
|MPAA Reason||strong violence, disturbing images and some nudity|
DER UNTERGANG WAS WATCHED ON OCTOBER 5, 2013.
Oliver Hirschbiegel is as fascinated with Adolf Hitler as Woody Allen is with Ingmar Bergman. It’s possible that the director hates the “Führer”; it’s just as possible he hates him. All we see is his approach: to view Hitler from several angles and, ultimately, fascinate the audience. Berndt Eichinger produced and wrote the screenplay for Der Untergang. His main scope is applaudably not what we’d imagine of Hitler. He hires Eva Braun because she’s caught his eye. We get the notion that if anyone else was unable to type his speeches, they’d have nerve to come to him. He yells orders at his soldiers as if he were of higher rank in a large business, not in a military. We, of course, know what these men and women have been brainwashed into, but they call themselves Nazis with infinite respect toward their Führer; he’s become an honorable hero to them. Somehow, Hirschbiegel and Eichinger achieve what seems impossible: to make everything in the historical approach seem understandable to anyone who watches. (I don’t doubt that 90% of the audience hears Hitler mentioned by name, and it’s an immediate stimulus for the thought of the most unforgivable, inhuman act of the 20th century.)
The opening and closing segments of Der Untergang (in English, that’s Downfall) are pure cinéma vérité, focusing on Traudl Junge, Hitler’s private secretary.* She reveals that she didn’t even know of the Holocaust, and she wouldn’t have imagined it. This is the only mention of the Holocaust, save for an end title: statistically, only 12% of World War II was during the Holocaust. We look at the other 88% of World War II, but rarely do we look at Hitler beyond his offense to humanity. There’s nothing else he did that was so jaw-dropping, but there’s quite a lot else he did. There’s no doubt that Der Untergang convinces us of a Hitler that would do anything to achieve his dream of a Third Reich, following the Holy Roman Empire and the German Empire.
But before Machiavellianism is even suggested, there’s a suspicious advantage in the screenplay from what little most of us know about Hitler’s final days. During these days, Hitler is as much a mystery as he could have ever been. Even with what’s revealed, we still feel obligated to know more: He’s depicted as a failure, but not a poltroon. He’s a rather loyal failure. He remained determined with national socialism. 1933 saw the inception of Nazi Germany and the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (the Nazi party). Twelve years later, he went down with the concept. By the time he and Eva Braun commit suicide, over a half hour remains. Ernest Hemingway’s death caused the same sort of grief among his family, but let’s consider the enormity when Hitler did it: his family was a country with powers and struggles. The last half hour is insgesamt Depression among the nation. Actually, it’s untergang.
There’s a good bit of psychology in the movie when dealing with Hitler’s motives. Though if you’re looking specifically for a biopic relating to psychology, you go south of Germany for Sigmund Freud. Der Untergang is made for appreciation on a historical level. It’s hit and miss in this area, but much closer to the former, thanks to its basis on several memoirs, as well as a historian’s textual gathering. The approach is otherwise likable, but über typical as a costume drama. The set decoration and art direction makes this something of a Julian Fellowes medium. It feels like a precursor to Downton Abbey, and the pacing begins to suffer when we realize that this would fare so much better, had it been made for television. It feels like something off a Deutsch history channel, but I’m led to believe that anyone already fascinated by Hitler’s mentality would better appreciate a full-fledged TV series. Neither is applicable, let alone strictly necessary, so I digress:
The pacing is one of two errors in an otherwise phenomenal script. The latter error has an effect on Hitler as a character. Does he actually love Eva Braun? Or has he been a womanizer for years, and decided that this would be the woman to die at his side? His James Bond-like charisma contradicts the sincerity of the rest of the film. Again, that’s a script error. It certainly isn’t an acting error. Bruno Ganz is a believable Hitler. He doesn’t make Hitler intriguing, but he does show how and why he is intriguing. I haven’t seen any Hitlers on film that are more authentic.
Scratch that. I have, actually. But let’s just suppose that stock footage is illegal. There’s still some competition for the top ten portrayal, but it isn’t exactly difficult competition for Herr Ganz.
*This is archived stock footage, as Junge passed away in 2002.