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Is it by coincidence that this year’s Festival of German Films again includes a major new work about Hitler, this time the Oscar nominated Downfall? Following last year’s Valkyrie, about the plot to assassinate him, Downfall meticulously recreates his last days in the bunker. It will cast a strong shadow over the festival program, reports Andrew L. Urban.

This time last year the Festival of German Films screened Jo Baier’s Operation Valkyrie, a fresh look at the attempted assassination of Adolf Hitler in July 1944; this year, it’s the riveting, Oscar nominated Downfall, the story of Hitler’s last days by Oliver Hirschbiegel (The Experiment), that is the program highlight. It’s a coincidence, but considering that the festival is also screening the first-post 1945 German-Jewish comedy made in Germany, Go for Zucker! An Unorthodox Comedy, and Napola, about the elite Nazi training schools are also in the program, suggests that 60 years after the events, German filmmakers are offering either catharsis or redemption via retrospection – and even comedy. 

Downfall is a superb production and surprisingly fresh considering the well worn topic – although Hitler’s final days have not been the subject of many dramas. The film is technically excellent, with a cohesive and clear structure, superb editing and a fitting score. Performances are riveting; Bruno Ganz captures the shrieking fanatic and the introverted madman of Hitler, as well as the occasionally sane, dog loving vegetarian next door. 

When we see the two kinds of devotees to Hitler’s National Socialist Germany, and world, revealed so eloquently as here, we gain a new shaft of understanding light into the Germany that allowed this crazed house painter to take over the Chancellery. We glimpse the varied reasons why innocents like his secretary Traudl Junge (Alexandra Maria Lara) were swept away with the moment, and also why dedicated followers like the Goebbels – who carefully killed their own children to spare them the horrors of living in a world without National Socialism – helped drive the Third Reich into its furious, hate driven frenzy. (Downfall opens in cinemas after the festival, on April 21, 2005.)

"The festival, touring the capitals during April"

The festival, touring the capitals during April, is also screening two new films direct from the 2005 Berlin Film Festival: Snowland from director Hans W. Geissendörfer and Willenbrock from director Andreas Dresen. 

Hirschbiegel is one of several guests of the Festival, including lead actor Henry Arnold of Edgar Reitz’s Heimat 3 - A Chronicle of Endings and Beginnings. The two film cycles, Heimat and Heimat 2 are recognised as milestones in television history. Heimat 3 is a narrative inventory of the century in its final decade.

Other guests: Dani Levy, writer, director of Go for Zucker! An Unorthodox Comedy; Napola director Dennis Gansel, who made his cinema debut in 2001 with Girls on Top; and filmmaker Susanne Seidel will introduce the short film program, Heartbeat, that includes her popular animation short, Pantoffelhelden – A slippery Tale.

The Berlin fest feature Snowland stars Thomas Kretschmann (The Pianist – another Nazis-in-the-war story), well known from Hollywood and European films, and who will soon be seen in Peter Jackson's upcoming remake of King Kong; and Julia Hentsch, who has just received the Silver Bear Best Actress Award for her role in Sophie Scholl at Berlin. Dresen’s last feature was the highly awarded Grill Point.

Festival of German Films tour:
14 - 24 April at the Chauvel and Valhalla Cinema in Sydney
15 - 24 April at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in Melbourne
20 - 23 April at the Southbank Cinemas in Brisbane 
28 April - 1 May at the Electric Shadows Cinema in Canberra

Published March 17, 2005

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