German film ‘Downfall’captures realistic elements of evil

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A CSUN Cinematheque screening of “Downfall” (2004), a German film about the last days of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich Nazi regime and its leaders, was held in the Alan and Elaine Armer Theater on Nov. 14.

Maria Elena de las Carreras, professor in the CTVA Department, hosted the event. She introduced the significance and pointed out highlights of the movie. She said she chose “Downfall” because of the heated controversy the film caused in Germany when it was released.

“You have to come with a historical experience in watching a movie,” she said. “The film itself doesn’t provide the context (alone).”

De las Carreras said the film stirred up some commotion in Germany because of the preconceived notion held by viewers and because of the way the movie portrays Germans. It is difficult when what one sees goes against his or her own point of view, she said.

De las Carreras emphasized the classical Hollywood melodramatic style that the film captured. She also said the casting, which was primarily based upon physical appearances, was very convincing with the facial countenance and the strong German accent in the actor who played Hitler’s voice.

The melodramatic portrayal of evil was addressed as a moral issue, De las Carreras said.

“How do we portray evil and dehumanization?” she said.

The film, directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, captured the realistic elements of evil, which was evident throughout the screening.

“From this kind of film, there is no moral frame by which an ignorant viewer can lean on,” de las Carreras said.

The context depends on the viewer’s prior knowledge of the event, she said. When the reenactment runs, an unlimited conceptual thinking is formed, however partisan it may be, she said.

The film begins with an introduction from Hitler’s former secretary Traudl Junge – then known as Traudl Humps, who confessed that had she known the kind of business she was mixed up in and the actual nature of the man she was dealing with at the time, she would have never signed up to be a secretarial candidate for Hitler.

Traudl also testified that her ignorance as a 22-year-old Munich-raised citizen led her to fail to fully realize the war at hand.

“Youth does not condone ignorance,” De las Carreras said.

Traudl had to live with the fact that she was a naïve victim of Hitler’s evil deeds toward a section of mankind. Though a peripheral witness, she admitted that if she had the chance to turn back time and take a new direction, she would.

De las Carreras also indicated that the utilization of third-person narrative effectively showed the audience the side not visible and vivid, which made the movie more captivating for viewers.

De las Carreras said that the fascinating firsthand account of Traudl became the ultimate impetus for producing the movie in the first place.

Traudl kept notes during that time, and near her late 70s, she decided to enlist the help of a writer and reorganized those notes, which eventually were compiled into a successful publication titled, “Until the Final Hour,” De las Carreras said. The book was released and sold throughout Germany.

A documentary film called “Blind Spot” was also developed from that book.

“Downfall,” on the other hand, is a melodrama narrative film with provocative intention.

Somewhere in the midst of the film, Hitler says, “I must come up with an outcome or trace my downfall,” which provides clarification on the meaning of the film’s title.

The opening scene in the film was in 1942, where five girls line up to apply as Hitler’s secretary. Two and a half years later, the bombing starts.

In a particularly grotesque scene, elderly civilians are struck with bullets, and doctors who did not know how to operate on them unwittingly dismember the injured.

The intense character of Hitler emanated continuously. His ill tempered, easily aroused nature played out well throughout the entire film, capturing evil precisely, as well as the demons within his own emotional character at the crux of the piece.

Jelly Mae Jadraque can be reached at jelly.mae.quilantange.jadraque@csun.edu.