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Der Untergang, or "Downfall" (Hirschbiegel, 2004)

By now, anyone who keeps up with good cinema has probably heard about this film. Told mostly through the eyes of Hitler's personal secretary during the siege of Berlin in the spring of 1945, it chronicles the Nazi leader's final days spent in a bunker under the Chancellery as Russian forces close in.

Certainly, Bruno Ganz' Adolf Hitler deserves ample praise. He has taken arguably the most infamous figure of the 20th century and turned him into everything we know him to be: a tortured, deranged, megalomaniacal, beaten man. His outburts and delusions are many, and we're never allowed to forget that this hunched, shuffling man - hated by millions - was actually a very fractured soul. There are hints of softness in his face and his actions, particularly toward the women and children, that force you to consider affording the man even the tiniest sliver of pity.

Der Untergang is most definitely a biopic, but many of the events that occurred in those final days are depicted. This is really where, unfortunately, the film underwhelms. Maybe it's just because I've read the accounts and know what happened, but the film plods along from point to point with minimal commentary on the history that's transpiring, and little characterization is afforded Hitler's contemporaries. They're as defeated as he is, but they rarely ascend from the surface struggle of maintaining loyalty for their Fuhrer or getting the hell out of Dodge.

Goebbels is probably the biggest waste of an opportunity: his manic devotion to Hitler and self-aggrandizement as the voice of Germany is almost completely nonexistent. He's very much just a man in a uniform, and though his wife was responsible for one of the most deplorable occurrences in that bunker (which is depicted in the film), you never get the sense that these two are - and were - completely unhinged.

Other minor issues aside, such as disjointed pacing and a general lack of mounting tension (I'm blaming my dependency on bombastic American film here), Der Untergang is most definitely worth seeing for Ganz' portrayal alone. Likewise, I can't say enough good things about Juliana Kohler, who gives us an Eva Braun that is hauntingly human and hopelessly in love with a monster. Her energy and charm is surprisingly admirable. Contrary to Hitler and almost every other Nazi around her, she chooses to live it up, and to accept what she knows is the end with tremendous grace and spirit.