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Saw a preview screening of Downfall last week. It is the first German film dealing with Hitler since the 1950's, according to the person from WPBA who introduced the film. It portrays the final couple of weeks of Hitler's life, something that has been done before but this one is supposed to be the most historically accurate. It's introduced by Traudl Junge, the final stenographer for Hitler, and is told from her perspective. But this is no documentary, it's a dramatic reenactment with really impressive acting and fine direction and cinematography. It's been criticized as trying to portray Hitler as a sympathetic character but I don't agree. If you know even a tiny big of history you know most of the names of the characters involved and I found it interesting that anyone could make a film showing this people as… well, PEOPLE. Sure, some of them seem to be more like vampires. Others are ghoulish. Some are fanatics, others sycophants and hangers-on, and some were just following orders, but there are only a few characters in the film who don't seem real. (Eva Bruan comes off as a bit too loony, for example.) So it's an interesting exercise in filmmaking - taking characters you already know and loathe as villains and only barely hinting at their villainy. Usually you have to build up hatred for the bad guy before you can cheer for their demise, but Downfall's characters are already as evil as they can be in the minds of most viewers so you're already leaning forward, waiting for them to get what's coming to them.
The film is long - 156 minutes. And it's entirely in German, so it's subtitled. But there are only a few moments where it feels a bit too long. It changes focus from character to character often enough to keep your interest, and the frantic, often surreal final days of Berlin is gripping. The Russian artillery rains constantly on the streets while the Hitler Youth try to stave off the invading army that's not even shown until the final few minutes of the film, making you think not about the allies but entirely about the Germans and the fate they have brought to their country.
There were also quite a few scenes that brought a sense of déjà vu to me - things I've heard American leaders say recently, attitudes I've heard American citizens voice while sitting in the pizza parlor next to me at Chamblee Tucker and 295. This is one of those films you wish everyone were forced to watch so that they might get a glimpse of what happens when you support your corrupt, war-mongering elected officials at all costs, merely because it's a time of war, even if it's a war they started.
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