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Last Updated: Friday, 1 April, 2005, 08:53 GMT 09:53 UK
Director's look at 'human' Hitler
By Neil Smith
BBC News entertainment reporter

The director of new German film Downfall - which is released in the UK on Friday - has defended his controversial depiction of Adolf Hitler's last days.

Downfall director Oliver Hirschbiegel
Hirschbiegel is best known for his 2001 drama Das Experiment
Millions of people in Germany have seen the big-budget epic, which details the collapse of the Third Reich leading up to Hitler's suicide on 30 April 1945.

The drama received a best foreign language film nomination at this year's Academy Awards and has so far made $60 million (31.5m) internationally.

But it has also provoked controversy with its portrait of the Fuehrer as a very human dictator whose insane rages jostle with acts of charity and tenderness.

"Should a monster be portrayed as a human being?" asked the German tabloid Bild.


Director Oliver Hirschbiegel, however, believes his portrayal of Hitler is a realistic depiction that encourages German audiences to come to terms with their past.

"We all know he was not a crocodile or an elephant, but a human being," he says.

Bruno Ganz as Hitler (copyright Constantin Films)
Adolf Hitler (left) is played by Swiss actor Bruno Ganz
"The worst thing that can happen to an evil man like that is if he becomes a myth, which is what has happened for decades.

"He's among us now, and if we accept he was a human being, we have to accept that some of that evil is in all of us."

The Hamburg-born film-maker says he deliberated for four months before deciding it was his "mission" to accept the job of being the film's director.

"As a German it was easier for me to do it. I knew the language, and obviously I was very familiar with the history.

"All these horrendous crimes were committed by my ancestors - I didn't imagine it was possible to recreate that.

"But the fact this was the first German film to deal with the subject made it easier."

'Cartoon Nazis'

Mr Hirschbiegel also believes it was imperative to make Downfall while key eyewitnesses were still alive.

"It's our last chance," he says. "These people are very old and are dying away, so we have to talk to them now.

Juliane Kohler and Bruno Ganz in Downfall (copyright Constantin Films)
Juliane Koehler (left) plays Hitler's mistress Eva Braun
"So many Second World War movies have these comic-strip, cartoon Nazis. But because you're dealing with actual history, you can ask people how it was."

Downfall is told from the point of view of Traudl Junge, one of Hitler's secretaries in his Berlin bunker.

Through her eyes we see the Nazi regime collapse from within and without, with some of Hitler's followers opting to commit suicide rather than surrender to the Allied forces.

One harrowing sequence shows Magda, the wife of prominent Nazi Joseph Goebbels, poisoning her children - a scene that Hirschbiegel, the father of two daughters, describes as "the toughest in my career".


Downfall's dramatisation of the dictator's final hours contrasts with the 2003 film Max, which sketched the life of the young Hitler in Munich at the end of the First World War.

But Mr Hirschbiegel expresses reservations about the relevance of looking at the future Fuhrer in his formative years.

Noah Taylor in Max
Noah Taylor played the young Hitler in 2003 film Max
"In these last 12 days I had the chance to show the last 12 years," he explains.

"If he was younger, it would be the story of a man rising from nowhere to become the master of a nation.

"Maybe it takes more movies before we can do that."

The need to find locations similar to 1945 Berlin took the production to St Petersburg, a million of whose citizens perished during the Nazi blockade.

But the director says filming in the city was "a wonderful experience".

"Everyone was scared about shooting in Russia, but it was amazing how open-hearted and friendly the people were," he says.

He adds that there was an additional resonance in seeing "Russians and Germans, former enemies, now working together".

Downfall opens in cinemas in the UK on 1 April.

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24 Aug 04 |  Entertainment

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