Dir: Oliver Hirschbiegel.Ger. 2004. 150mins

Does the world really needanother film on Adolf Hitler' Downfall answers the question in theaffirmative. Recent years have seen the release of Max, Moloch,the documentary Blind Spot and the Robert Carlyle mini-series, but Downfallis distinctive and potentially much more commercial.

It covers seeminglyfamiliar material from the fresh perspective of a contemporary Germanfilm-maker (Oliver Hirschbiegel), takes a non-sensationalistic approach andbenefits from memoirs and research that have deepened our knowledge of thefinal days of the Third Reich. The fascinating result offers history on a humanlevel and has the scale and ambition that should strike a significant chord inGermany and succeed as a prestige arthouse item in international territories.

Hitler: The Last Ten Days (1972) with Alec Guinnessand The Bunker (1981) with an Emmy-winning Anthony Hopkins are just twoof the productions to try and capture a sense of Hitler's final days. Downfall is much more wide-ranging;using a variety of characters to capture the chaos of a country coming apart atthe seams. Traudl Junge (Lara) (the subject of Blind Spot) provides one of the major links in the story. Aprologue in 1942 shows her being personally selected by Hitler (Ganz) as hissecretary and when the film shifts to April 1945 she is with him in the bunker,devoted to the man although wary of his beliefs. A young boy, a doctor, varioushigh-ranking Nazi officials, Magda Goebbels and Eva Braun (Kohler) are justsome of the figures whose stories blend into the bigger picture of whathappened during the final weeks of Nazi rule.

By April 1945, the enemywas at the gates. The Russian army is advancing on Berlin and defeat isinevitable. Hitler's moods range from defiance to delusion and others mustdecide whether to fight or flee, remain loyal or opt for self-preservation. Itis the very personal touches that lend the film its fascination. Hitler pondersthe fate of Germany whilst Braun parties like the last passenger on theTitanic. A dog is taken for a walk outside the Bunker, Braun writes a farewellletter to her sister, Magda Goebbels kills all her children, Hitler takesadvice on the most effective means of suicide. It is a film that refuses tojudge their actions but merely presents a catalogue of evidence. It doesn'tquite create sympathy for the devil but it does encourage an understandinglargely devoid of histrionics and hysterics.

Bruno Ganz has thechallenge of playing Hitler, a role that can defeat even the most gifted ofactors (viz Alec Guinness). Ganz looks the part without seeming ridiculous,adopting a stoop and a palsied, shaking hand to signal growing infirmity. HisHitler is charming on a personal level but ruthless and unforgiving, ranting withblind fury at the merest hint of opposition or betrayal. It is a performance ofconsiderable power and complexity.

Lest he be accused ofavoiding the moral dimension of the Hitler years, Hirchbiegel ends the filmwith the personal testimony of the real Traudl Junge. Her confession thatignorance was no excuse for her part in Nazi atrocities is left as anaccusation against all Germans adding a further justification to a film thatseeks to address the truth about the country's past.

Prod cos: Constantin Film, ARD Degato, EOS Production
Int'l sales: EOS Distribution
Prod: Bernd Eichinger
Scr: Bernd Eichinger based on thebooks Inside Hitler's Bunker by Joachim Fest and Until The Final Hour by TraudlJunge and Melissa Muller
Cine: Rainer Klausmann
Prod des: Bernd Lepel
Ed: Hans Funck
Music: Stephan Zacharias
Main cast: Bruno Ganz, AlexandraMaria Lara, Corinna Harfouch, Ulrich Mattes, Juliane Kohler