Downfall (or Der Untergang if you’re German)
Thursday 10th September, 2009
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When we learned about wars in school we were told about who defeated who and details of where and when. But we were never told the details of war. What exactly are the processes of the last few days of war? How does an army surrender to another? How much fighting is done when the inevitable fact arises that your side is about to go belly-up.
Downfall is a 2004 German-language film about the end of World War II from the Berlin Bunker viewpoint. I went into this film thinking it was all about Hitler and it really isn’t. It’s mostly concerned with the people who surrounded him, the Secretaries, the Generals unable to get the man to accept defeat. The man himself is utterly unable to comprehend that the writing’s on the wall, but one can’t help thinking is it because he snapped or because of what we now believe to be Parkinson’s disease which was affecting him?
It’s a visually shocking film with scenes of battleground amputations and sudden deaths as the might of the Soviet Red Army approaches. In fact, there’s really very little of the Russian troops as an on-screen presence, they’re mainly treated as the threat just out of sight, coming to kill everyone in it’s way.
My stand-out character is the guy playing the German radio operator who is left behind when everyone finally evacuates the bunker. It’s like they don’t even know he exists! His startled reaction to two suicides of his senior officers is a moment that made me smile.
It doesn’t shy away from the full horror of war and the people involved. There’s a particularly harrowing scene as Magda Goebbels performs a particularly despicable act which the camera shows each and every death. No panning away to avoid it, you see the full horror. When the camera pans away from the deaths of her and her husband you find it particularly striking as it’s the only time they do move off of such a thing.
Watch this film. Get a box of tissues to hand, you will start blubbing like a little girl.