Wednesday, December 29, 2010
#16: Der Untergang
"I did not go to any military academy and yet by myself I conquered all of Europe...", thus thunders Adolf Hitler ( Bruno Ganz) in an epochal moment of the Second World War. Epochal, because these were his words just before he concedes that all is lost and there's nothing that could be done to salvage the Third Reich from there on. The shoulders droop, the temper subsides and Hitler's eyes wilt towards the floor. If ever there was a movie, from which you would get all the monies worth from just one monologue, it is this one monologue in Der Untergang - the story of Hitler's last days.
It's a script that's compiled from memoirs written by Hitler's associates ( including a secretary) who were present during those fateful days of the war that saw the Fuhrer coming to terms with the fall of his empire. The first thing that strikes you about the movie is it's stark realism of it's characters some of whom, given their impending surrender deem it fit to revel in drinks and dance rather than worry about the inevitable. It also helps that since this is a European production there's not a single character who doesn't seem fit for the cast in their respective roles as native generals and soldiers. Eva Braun- whom Hitler weds just before they commit their suicides is charmingly portrayed by German actress Juliane Kohler.The few scenes that they have together are treated with extreme sensitivity. One particularly touching moment is when a general pleads with Eva to convince Hitler to leave Berlin and all Eva says is The Fuhrer will make the right decision.
The movie works at several levels to hook you as a viewer- first there's the brilliant performance by Bruno Ganz ( Wings of Desire, Der Baader Meinhoff Complex- he supposedly underwent 4 months of preparation studying Hitler's conversation to mimic the accent). The shaking of his hands, the pride in his voice, the anger, the despair and the eventual acceptance of his rout- all moments in the movie that will keep you glued to the screen (The one monologue I referred to in the beginning of the movie is still something I watch from time to time on DVD ). Then there's the near claustrophobic experience of getting sucked into Hitler's bunker, the plot movement about how the Germans will negotiate with the Russians if at all and then the performance of the entire supporting cast. As every minute passes, you know for a fact that it's all about to get over soon and soon the two-and-a-half hours pass you by without you even flinching in your seat.
There are few movies that you can look back and say, I wouldn't change a thing about that one- because everything about it seems in place- Der Untergang is that movie. A must-watch if you're into war movies, a must-watch if you want one of the best slices of German cinema ever and last but not the least, a must-watch if you just want to behold the finest on-screen portrayal of one of the most complex characters in the history of mankind.