by: Caroline Westbrook - Last updated: 2005-10-06
For years, German filmmakers have shied away from making films about Hitler and the Second World War, possibly for fear of glorifying the Nazi leader. It's a delicate subject for any filmmaker to approach, let alone a German one, and to make it in Germany, in German, is even more challenging.
However, director Oliver Hirschbiegel has tackled the topic in his movie Downfall, a two and a half hour epic which chronicles the last days of Hitler in his bunker, as Berlin falls to the Russians. It's told largely from the point of view of Traudl Junge, who became Hitler's personal secretary during the war, although the stories of all those who were close to him personally and professionally including Eva Braun and Joseph Goebbels are also told.
This is a real epic of a film it runs for nearly two and a half hours yet is consistently compelling and powerful. In some ways, it feels a bit like a Shakespearian tragedy, due to its length and the way in which it portrays so many different stories, to say nothing of the body count. All the cast are very impressive, but at the centre of the film is a superb performance from Bruno Ganz as Hitler, alternately ranting to his staff about refusing to give up and resigning himself to the fact that the war is lost for Germany.
This is a brave film to make especially for a German director but it provides a fascinating glimpse into one of the darkest times in recent history.
Downfall is released now on DVD from Momentum.