The story goes like this…Traudl Junge, Hitler’s personal secretary during the last two years of his life, was interviewed for the documentary Blind Spot: Hitler’s Secretary in 2002. After hearing of the documentary’s warm reception and critical success Junge died of cancer in the early hours of the next day. Mere hours before her death, she is believed to have stated “Now I have let go of my story, I can let go of my life.” Some of the footage from the documentary is present in the dramatic retelling of Hitler’s final days that appeared two years later. In 2004, Downfall presented a cinematic version of the events that occurred in the final years of World War II, driving Germany to surrender and Hitler, along with many devoted followers, to take his own life.
The power and brilliance of Downfall lies in the bold performances and the audacious storytelling. Bruno Ganz gives the performance of a lifetime as the most famous dictator in history. Studying the movements of Parkinson’s disease sufferers and perfecting Hitler’s unique Austrian accent were just some of the elements involved in his four months of character research. This portrayal of one of history’s most evil individuals is one of the greatest in the biographical history of cinema. Despite many scenes displaying the aggressive yelling that we typically associate with this dictator, Gantz also captures a more naturalistic and humanistic version of Hitler, one we are not used to seeing and one that we can imagine to be true of the real leader of the Nazi Party. Secondary performances given by Corinna Harfouch and Ulrich Matthes as Magda and Joseph Goebbels are aggressive and bold. Both actors capture the twisted natures and undeniable loyalty of the real life Nazi and his wife. Alexandra Maria Lara captures the confusion, curiosity and fear that lies in Junge’s character and story. She has a delicacy and a fragility that helps secure a certain likeability with her in a situation she does not truly understand.
The story focusses on the actions inside the Berlin bunker and, despite constantly hearing of the Russian’s approach and the events occurring in the outside world, the story never ventures outside of Berlin. This creates a claustrophobia, highlighting the pressure Hitler felt and the trap the Nazis found themselves in. Downfall tells the story of exactly that; the downfall of a movement and an idea that is poignant in our global history. Focussing on the final days of Hitler is what sets this film apart from other World War II epics that have gone before it; along with its valiant decision to depict Hitler, along with so many other key Nazi individuals, so blatantly and honestly. The film opens and closes with footage of Junge from Blind Spot: Hitler’s Secretary. In the opening footage she discusses her reasons for working for Hitler. In the closing footage she states that her youth was not an excuse for not knowing fully about the horrors of the Holocaust and the Nazi’s actions. This closing footage brings the film to a close in the most suitable way. Junge’s closing words summarises just how unaware so many were of certain actions and just how hidden so many of these atrocities were.
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