DOWNFALL (Oliver Hirschbiegel). 156 minutes. Opens Friday (March 18). Subtitled. For venues and times, see Movies, page 90. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
In Wings Of Desire, Bruno Ganz played a supremely sympathetic angel who chooses to fall to earth. In Downfall he's gone all the way underground, playing Adolf Hitler in the last days of the second world war.
Attended by generals and intimates (the script is based on Hitler's stenographer's memoirs), he alternately rages and pouts in his Berlin bunker as the war is being lost to the Allies, a fact that's clear to everyone but him and the Goebbels family.
This is a strange collision of two films. One is an intimate drama about the collective fantasy of the Third Reich's dregs while its leaders snipe at one another on the eve of their suicides. The other is a grim, pounding action movie about Berlin's last soldiers fighting off the Soviet assault.
This combination was deemed respectable and inert enough to be nominated for a foreign-language Oscar this year.
While Ganz reaches heights of both authority and insanity in his portrayal of Hitler, it's hard to fathom what this film has over dozens of stronger views of the subject. Aleksandr Sokurov's Moloch is weirder but so much more illuminating.