Downfall

Discussion in 'Movies' started by Haggai, Mar 20, 2005.

  1. Haggai

    Haggai Producer

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    I saw this movie yesterday. It's very well done, with excellent performances from most of the cast, most notably Bruno Ganz as Hitler. The actors playing Goebbels and his wife, Ulrich Matthes and Corinna Harfouch, also stand out with particularly powerful roles. I do want to raise some questions about things I've read in a few reviews, although I know that it hasn't been in very wide release, so not too many people have had a chance to see it (Ted Todorov did recommend it in the 2005 Foreign/Art/Indy film thread).

    Most of the reviews have been positive, currently running almost 90% on Rotten Tomatoes, but A.O. Scott's NY Times review is a critical one. He says this:



    A question here is, does Downfall endorse the particular claim she makes about not having known the extent of what was going on? I'm not sure that it does, or, again, if the filmmakers are even expressing a particular opinion on it, as opposed to just letting her speak for herself. I hope I'm not getting too political here, into thread-lockage territory, but my own view has always been that every sentient adult in Germany at the time knew what was going on, especially someone who was a part of Hitler's inner sanctum. Secretaries are indeed often kept out of the loop on some things, particularly when their employers are engaging in something that could be seen as unsavory, but I have more than a bit of trouble believing that the industrialized genocide of 6 million people could fall into the category of such secretive plots.
     
  2. JonZ

    JonZ Lead Actor

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  3. Holadem

    Holadem Lead Actor

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    I was this close to seeing it: walked into the theater with a bag of fast-food when I was stopped by a manager who insisted very rudely that food was not allowed on the premises. So I got pissed, got my money back and left. Aaargh.

    I will be going back, with no food, but will file a complaint against this moron.

    --
    H
     
  4. Haggai

    Haggai Producer

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    All right, y'all need to see this and post your thoughts here, so I'm not just talking to myself. [​IMG]
     
  5. Brook K

    Brook K Lead Actor

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    It opened in Atlanta on Friday, I would like to see it, but I don't know if I'll have time to.

    Uh, what theaters let you openly bring food in and how could you be surprised that they wouldn't allow this? Why didn't you just take the food out of the bag and stick in a jacket pocket or something? That's what I do.
     
  6. Holadem

    Holadem Lead Actor

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    Brook, I am not objecting to the policy, I am objecting to the rudeness of the manager who was obviously having a bad day. I suspect there are other reasons to his behaviour but I won't go into them here. Let's just say that he wouldn't have behaved that way toward the typical patron of this sort of establishment (small arthouse theater).

    Sorry Haggai, no more from me on this topic. Until I see the movie that is [​IMG].

    --
    H
     
  7. Edwin Pereyra

    Edwin Pereyra Producer

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    Haggai, thanks for the PM. I have read your points above. However, I'm afraid I don't know enough about Germans in particular to comment one way or another to the points that you brought up and how they actually feel about this important event in history.

    For me, to agree or disagree with your discussion points requires more knowledge about German history and the specific individuals involved in these historical events.

    I assume A.O. Scott has that knowledge to stand by the claims he made in his review and you the same knowledge to disagree with it. I, on the other hand, can only stand aside as an observer until I have more facts on hand.

    As to Traudle Junge's claim of her lack of knowledge about the Holocaust events, well, some of us can be cynical about it. But I don't think the film is taking a position on way or another. It is just taking her word for it.

    But in the end, whether she should have done more was the true and more important question that was asked.

    ~Edwin
     
  8. Armin Jager

    Armin Jager Stunt Coordinator

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    The question how much the Germans knew is undecided until today for the simple lack of reliable sources. I doubt that most Germans knew exactly what happened though they probably didn't want to know what happened to the expelled Jews. But if it would've been known widely that there is a mass murder of Jews the reactions would probably have been devastating. Robbery and expulsion which the Germans witnessed passively and from which they profited is one thing, mass murder of millions another. Consider e.g. that the euthanasia program for insane people had to be stopped officially after it got more and more known what happened, the pressure from the population was too strong to be ignored.

    DOWNFALL was a smash success in Germany and caused many controversies. One of the main critical points was that the last ten days of the regime don't tell you much about the regime and about the reasons for the rise of the party. That's certainly a valid point, but that's not what the film aims to do. It's showing a disintegrating regime and his leaders, the ruthlessness against the own nation, the fanaticism of many people to fight until the bitter end and the absurd situation in the last days (pointless orders, executions, senseless death, chaos). In this the film admirably succeeds.
    The other point which some international press jumped on was the problem of "humanizing Hitler", but it was widely refuted since Hitler is still monstrous, but nevertheless sane and occasionally kind to some people around him. After all he was a human, to show him as a totally evil lunatic would be a gross mistake since he obviously had a magnetic aura for the people around him and you can't explain this if you show a ravaging madman. There's no reason not to show that he liked his dog and was kind to his secretary.

    It's a bit sad that DOWNFALL eclipses DER LETZTE AKT by G.W.Pabst from 1955 which is an extremely powerful film and is even better in creating the oppressive, claustrophobic atmosphere with very effective lighting. It focuses almost exclusively on the bunker and the only shown German dead civilians are caused by the desctruction of the subway where many wounded seeked refuge by the SS in order to stop the Russians. It also lacks the more expansive dramaturgy of the DOWNFALL and reduces the number of major figures showing mostly Hitler and Oskar Werner as an officer opposed to the regime. It's a very memorable film and many things from DOWNFALL are found there, too since both films are based on the interviews with those who survived. Bruno Ganz is the better Hitler though.

    Also watch out for second billed Alexandra Maria Lara as Traudl Junge in DOWNFALL, she's THE shooting star in Germany at the moment and a favourite of many critics and viewers.
     
  9. Haggai

    Haggai Producer

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    Armin, thanks for your input, it's good to hear from someone with direct knowledge about how the movie was received in Germany, as opposed to these reviews from US critics that must be no better than second or third-hand accounts. Interesting to hear about Der Letzte Akt, hopefully that'll be available in some form in the US someday.

    I've got the Junge documentary/interview on the way from Netflix, so I'll probably post back here with some more thoughts on that, and how it relates to Downfall, after I've seen it.

    Armin, quick question that you might be able to answer directly, and thus indulging my laziness in not trying to look it up: Downfall portrays a meeting in the bunker between Hitler and Speer, where Speer informs him that he hasn't followed Hitler's instructions to raze the country's infrastructure. The scene ends with a close-up on Hitler, showing a tear on his face, which I think is signifying that this was truly the "betrayal" that affected him the most (as opposed to the later scene where he rants openly about Himmler's betrayal being the worst). My question is, did this meeting in the bunker between them actually occur in real life? I don't think it's a problem with the movie if it didn't, just curious. I did read Speer's memoirs once, but it was more than 10 years ago, so I don't remember if he claimed to have had such a meeting with Hitler or not.
     
  10. Armin Jager

    Armin Jager Stunt Coordinator

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    Yes, it did exactly as depicted, I don't think there's a single event in DOWNFALL which isn't historically accurate.
     
  11. Haggai

    Haggai Producer

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    I watched the documentary Blind Spot tonight, which consists of about 90 minutes of interviews with Traudl Junge, from about a year before her death in 2002. The final clip of Downfall is taken from the last clip of Blind Spot. It's mostly her direct reminiscinces of her time as Hitler's secretary, centered around major events. She reflects some about what it all meant, at the beginning and a bit at the end, but mostly it's just her historical testimony. Several events in Downfall mirror her descriptions quite closely: Eva Braun's party, the decision by her and some of the other women to stay in the bunker, the circumstances surrounding Hitler's suicide, the fate of the Goebbels children, and a few other things. Her memories about the July plot of 1944, the most nearly successful of any of the various assassination attempts against Hitler, are particularly interesting.

    Similarly to Downfall, there isn't much in the way of sentimentalizing or attempted message-delivering, mostly just a recounting of what happened, from her point of view. The only time she got emotional was in recounting how the eldest daughter of the Goebbels came to understand the significance of what was happening to her and her siblings (also depicted in Downfall). I think this is an appropriate and worthwhile approach to the subject matter, in Blind Spot as well as in Downfall. Much of the world, and Germany in particular, have spent several decades delving into the historical facts and circumstances in an attempt to understand how it all happened, so there are plenty of places to go for such analysis. Downfall succeeds as a re-creation of how it all ended for the Nazi regime, vividly dramatizing much of the material presented very straightforwardly in Blind Spot.

    Armin, I'm guessing that you agree with my dissent from A.O. Scott's view, where he claims that Downfall "is sending its domestic audience the soothing message that ordinary Germans were above all the victims of Nazism"? My feeling is that German audiences today would have seen that sort of message, if it was there, as unwelcome manipulation, and since the movie was a success, I assume that they felt it was an honest portrayal that wasn't trying to preach to them.
     
  12. Armin Jager

    Armin Jager Stunt Coordinator

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    Nah, I wouldn't worry about our totalitarian leanings today [​IMG]. From what I've read Japan or Italy are much less interested in accepting or exploring their role in the war, I find e.g. the lack of covering the own crimes in Italian cinema absolutely stunning, the first major success ROMA, CITTA APERTA shows only good Italians who are all resistance fighters and bad Germans.
    If you live in Germany you get flooded with the Third Reich, there's less the danger of saying too less than too much. If you go to a book shop and search for history books, 80% of them will deal with the Third Reich, on TV there are regularly docus and many of them have huge popularity ratings, in school the topic is handled regularly and so on.
    There was very recently an additional perspective to the usual stories in telling the stories of the German victims of the war. There were many docus about the expulsion of the Germans from the East which cost a million people their lives. Günter Grass wrote the novel "Im Krebsgang" which brought back the memory of the sinking of the "Wilhelm Gustloff" the greatest catastrophy of seafaring (almost 10000 people died). The historian Jörg Friedrich wrote the very popular bestseller "Der Brand" (the blaze) in which he described the reduction of almost every major city to rubble and killed half a million people. DOWNFALL's portrayal of an occasionally kind Hitler was also added to this list by some worried commentators (the British press seems to think that they have to comment everything), but that's simply rubbish. After 60 years it should be possible to tell something about the German victims, to ask questions if the bombing of cities like Dresden was necessary or to condemn the crimes of the advancing Red Army especially the mass rapes.
    This doesn't mean that the Germans don't know who began the war and what they did which will always overshadow our history.

    I'ds wish nevertheless that German cinema would be recognized beyond Nazi themes. To say it in a little bit nasty way, for winning an Oscar or at least a nomination we can always pull out the Nazi topic, both oscars for foreign language films Germany won were for films who deal with the time (THE TIN DRUM and NOWHERE IN AFRICA) and DOWNFALL was nominated as well as NACHTS, WENN DER TEUFEL KAM by Siodmak in the 50s.
     
  13. Haggai

    Haggai Producer

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    Here's what I think is an interesting question: do you think that German historical cinema, literature, etc. will itself be able to advance beyond WWII themes? I mean the history-based stories specifically. Like you say, almost all of the history books in stores deal with that period, but do you think that the many centuries of German history that preceded it will be seen as suitable for cinematic adaptation at some point?
     
  14. Armin Jager

    Armin Jager Stunt Coordinator

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    History films = costly. And in order to sell a movie on the world market who cares about Prussian history or something else. But the Nazis sell. It's probably as simple as that.
    Anyway if you make a film about the 20s you have already the shadow of the Nazis. If you deal with the empire from 1870-1918 you can detect the traces of later susceptibility for the Third Reich which is what two of the most famous films about this era did in the 50s (DER HAUPTMANN VON KÖPENICK by Käutner and DER UNTERTAN by Staudte).
    This aside there are some singular themes which are tackled repeatedly like Kaspar Hauser (Herzogs JEDER FÜR SICH UND GOTT GEGEN ALLE) or Ludwig II. (the films by Käutner and Visconti).
    But from our current major directors there are none who seem to have any interest in the time before 1933 (Becker, Link, Roehler, Färberböck) or the past at all (Tykwer, Petzold, Dresen, Akin, Graf).
     
  15. Ravi K

    Ravi K Supporting Actor

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    Saw this yesterday and really enjoyed it. It depicted the fanaticism about Nazism that many had (Goebbels' wife specifically mentioning she couldn't imagine a world without National Socialism). The crumbling of the government in those last days was well portrayed.

    About the humanization of Hitler: I don't believe there is the danger of making him sympathetic just by showing that he could be charming and liked his dog. Everyone already knows what atrocities he did, and the film makes it clear that he was a compassionless person anyways.
     
  16. Brook K

    Brook K Lead Actor

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    Interesting topic Armin. The only one I can think of is Fassbinder's Effi Briest but he certainly went through his own period of making Nazi films. Of course to his credit he made so many great films about contemporary Germany.

    In Italy perhaps Salo would be the prime example, though I really view it as more universal than specific to Italy despite its setting. The Conformist is perhaps closest to a self-examination that I'm familiar with. Films like The Leopard and 1900 allude to the conditions that brought facists to power, but certainly don't examine Italy under fascism.

    I'm not familiar with any direct examinations in Japanese cinema either. Kurosawa deals with the topic in a veiled manner in some of his post-war films. Mizoguchi's Ugetsu is certainly a fine allegory, but doesn't take the issue head on. Perhaps Seijun Suzuki's Fighting Ellegy would be the best example I'm familiar with, but his absurdist comedy is set in the 30's.
     
  17. Armin Jager

    Armin Jager Stunt Coordinator

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    The current riots in China about the Japanese propaganda schoolbooks underline that the Japanese never dealt with their past and even manage to consider themselves the victims because of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I mean if they revere their executed war criminals at their shintoistic shrines, then there's not much to say. I never heard of major Japanese films dealing with the war and the own murderous and ruthlessly criminal role in it.

    I feel a little bit uncomfortable as German citizen (though born in Poland [​IMG]) to present the Germans as saints who've learned from the history and attacking the others, but the facts speak for themselves.
     
  18. AlexCremers

    AlexCremers Second Unit

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    She's pretty too. I was hoping Hitler would pick her as his secretary ... and he did!

    I thought the movie was quite good but the execution of it felt like a TV movie. The events were shocking but I was not impressed, cinematically.
     
  19. Andy Sheets

    Andy Sheets Cinematographer

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    Admittedly, for whatever reason I don't think those other nations have been shamed as relentlessly and deeply as Germany has for its role in both World Wars. It's more oriented towards WWII now, but it's really been unabated ever since WWI. My fiance and I were absent-mindedly watching "I Love the 90's" on VH1 not too long ago, and while discussing the movie Run Lola Run and the prominence of clocks in the movie, the announcers suddenly started making these nudge-nudge-wink-wink comments about the inherently cold, militaristic nature of German culture (my fiance is German and she looked downright nauseated when she saw this). People don't do this sort of thing with Italy or Japan, but it's *constant* in regards to Germany.
     
  20. Brook K

    Brook K Lead Actor

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    I haven't seen any German films from the period between Testament of Dr. Mabuse and Young Torless so I can't discuss that. As for Fassbinder, what about The Marriage Of Maria Braun? Also, Schlondorff's Young Torless is an illustration and condemnation of the human behaviors that allow totalitarianism to flourish, but is set around 1912 rather than during the Nazi period. I haven't seen it, but wouldn't Hitler be another of this type of film from the NGC period?

    I didn't think about The Garden of the Finzi-Continis but that too doesn't really have a lot of bite. I understand what you are saying about victimhood with things like Rome Open City and Paisa carrying on into later works like Night of the Shooting Stars and Life Is Beautiful. Italy went so far as to produce a great film about German victimhood, Germany Year Zero.

    The Soviets too produced a lot of films of this nature like Ballad of a Soldier and The Cranes Are Flying.

    Having not seen the films you mentioned, it is perhaps interesting and instructive that the best film of WWII self-examination I've seen came from Czechoslovakia, The Shop On Main Street.
     

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