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Downfall (2004)

Sony

Cast: Bruno Ganz, Alexandra Maria Lara, Ulrich Matthas, Corinna Harfouch.

Rating: NR.

Run time: 155 mins

Genre: Foreign.

Verdict: Brilliant (see rating system)

This German movie is the best film ever made about Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler, featuring a superb performance by Swiss actor Bruno Ganz as the Fuehrer..

Based on the recollections of Hitler's last secretary Traudl Junge in her book Until The Final Hour, the film oozes authenticity as it tells of the final days of the Third Reich in 1945. With the Russians closing in from the east and the Allied armies approaching from the west, Hitler retreated to his massive underground bunker in Berlin.

Here he ranted about the betrayals of his generals, cynically dismissed the fate of the war weary German people and continued to issue orders for imaginary armies long since wiped out. Sycophantic followers like propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels continued to the last to peddle the illusion Germany could still win the war.

Others pleaded for Hitler to escape the closing trap and continue the war from a mountain fortress. But as the air raids grew heavier and Russian artillery shells exploded day and night amid the Berlin ruins above, above, Hitler vowed to stay. His final act was to marry long-time companion Eva Braun before they both committed suicide.

Junge, who died in 2002, witnessed it all as a 25-year-old and her story makes for a gripping movie. The claustrophobic atmosphere of the bunker is vividly recreated though painstaking research based on plans, drawing and photographs of the bunker. A complete replica was built for this production near Munich.

Exterior shots of the chaos of wartime Berlin and street fighting were filmed in St. Petersburg, Russia where many of the buildings were designed by German architects.

Ganz has a great supporting cast around him, but he dominates every scene he's in as he brings to life the Hitler Junge knew: Complex, fierce, obsessive, delusional, but also thoughtful on a personal level and often charming.

But even Junge had no excuses for Hitler's barbarity, his anti-semitism and the madness he initiated that engulfed the world and killed millions.

A riveting film indeed.

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