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2008 films 3) Der Untergang

I was inspired to watch this account of the last days in Hitler's bunker by strange_complex's thought-provoking (but mildly spoilerish) review, and was completely gripped throughout. Berlin has always been a place of fascination for me; I remember when I first went there in 1986, when the Wall was still very much there, the sense of truncation as you looked at the U-Bahn and S-Bahn lines stopping abruptly; and I remember going back in 1992 and walking under the Brandenburg Gate where I had taken pictures of the Wall from both sides six years before. And I was familiar from skimming the historical literature with the basics of the story of late April and early May in 1945. It would be possible (and I am sure it has happened) to do a very poor and cliched dramatization, but this is very good.

Partly this is because of the viewpoint character being a young woman, Hitler's secretary Traudl Junge. She and Eva Braun and the other women of the bunker tend to be background figures in the standard historical accounts. By foregrounding their stories, Der Untergang makes this a story about human beings rather than about politics - certainly, human beings in an insane and deadly situation which is of their own making, but it makes the whole thing very watchable. (Having said that, I share strange_complex's dissatisfaction with the ending, for much the same reasons.)

The other superb thing about the film is Bruno Ganz's performance in the key role, a completely gripping and convincing portrayal. One point that struck me especially was his accent - as pointed out a while back by rcfinch, it is actually pretty harsh, a clipped mock-demotic contrast to the more mellifluous Hochdeutsch of the rest of the cast. It is an exaggeration - I tracked down some original recordings on Youtube to compare - but it helps enormously to convey the character - the abbreviated but intense vowels a metaphor for his career.

Indeed, more generally I found the film particularly shocking and direct because it was in German, not a translation. German is the foreign language in which I am best qualified (A-level) and for me it is a medium of well-meaning academic articles, great and less great literature and (in my later teenage years) occasional flirtation. I was never especially interested in war films, so never particularly subscribed to those stereotypes. But Der Untergang puts it right in your face: this language which I use for ordering food and drink when I change planes in Vienna is also the language of genocide and total war.

I understand that there are several versions of the English sub-titles out there, which is just as well - the ones I was watching with occasionally missed catching important nuances and inexplicably omitted entire lines (an early crack about the Asiatic hordes, a later report that they could hold out for only twenty hours). Unfortunately I am not quite brave enough to watch it without them.

Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
strange_complex
Jul. 12th, 2008 11:32 am (UTC)
Oh, I'm glad to hear you enjoyed both my review and the film. :-) My mother and I were very much gripped in the same way you describe when we watched it. And thanks for your comments on the linguistic side of things - which were rather lost on me as I don't know any German.
manjushra
Jul. 12th, 2008 12:33 pm (UTC)
I have "Goodbye Lenin" sitting around waiting for me to watch it - probably this evening. Have you seen it?
(Anonymous)
Jul. 12th, 2008 04:42 pm (UTC)
It's a film I watch occasionally, best seen with 'Blind Spot' a documentary interview with Frau Junge. In an interview Bruno Ganz says something like "the really interesting film would be one that showed how this bunch of monkeys came to power'. Secondly, the end exposed their nature of the regime, an insane death cult.
arwel_p
Jul. 13th, 2008 11:25 am (UTC)
A spoiler ending? You didn't know AH doesn't survive? :) I imagine the director wanted at least a slightly more optimistic ending after all the preceding death, so didn't show Frau Junge undergoing the same fate as most of Berlin's womenfolk apparently did at the time.

I've seen clips on You Tube with English subtitles in both white (as on the DVD I've got) and in yellow - I don't know which is the better translation as my German only allows me to pick up the occasional word or phrase here and there, though Der Untergang did teach me the very useful word, "Wahnsinn"!

Unlike you, I've been quite informed on the history of WW2 from a young age - Granada TV had a weekly series back in the 1960s, "All Our Yesterdays", which showed newspaper stories and cinema newsreels 25 years after the event with a commentary by Brian Inglis - I was six in 1964 and eleven in 1970, so I effectively watched WW2 happen in real time as a kid. This lead to a love for history which has stayed with me ever since, and I used to borrow my older neighbour's "History of the Second World War" weekly partworks for deeper knowledge, I was fascinated by all the maps and pictures - though I must admit that the one covering the Katyn Massacre gave me nightmares! A good retelling of what WW2 meant to a small boy in the 60s and 70s can be found in the first part of "Achtung Schweinehund!: A Boy's Own Story of Imaginary Combat" by Harry Pearson (ISBN 978-0316861366).
nwhyte
Jul. 13th, 2008 12:09 pm (UTC)
Funnily enough I knew about "All Our Yesterdays" from Brian Inglis' excellent autobiography, Downstart. It is a little poignant to read about, as it was obviously the zenith of his career!
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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