Ambivalence toward Hitler — and in participating in a movie about him — courses throughout “Downfall’s” extra content. The mostly German cast and crew alternately confess reluctance, ambition and sense of duty to become involved in a film about the last 10 days of the Third Reich. These remarks, along with copious historical background, provide much- needed context for a powerful, yet inherently controversial, movie. Too bad the making-of featurette wasn’t better adapted for English-speaking auds.
Initially reluctant to take on the pic, helmer Oliver Hirschbiegel takes great pains to show how closely the film stuck to events, pointing out historical nuances throughout his commentary, in English. Hitler’s hand shook because he had Parkinson’s, for example, though that wasn’t known at the time. And while Albert Speer comes off as almost thoughtful in the movie, he had been a vicious supporter of Hitler’s ruthless destruction earlier.
“The research for this movie was not very pleasant,” Hirschbiegel says. “It’s kinda weird for me to hear frequent accusations we humanized Hitler too much. I think if you just watch this and listen to him, it’s unbelievable. He is a monster.”
Bruno Ganz, meanwhile, admitted the ambitious actor in him jumped at the chance to play the dictator, who “even in his decline, still had such pull.”
Though he first brushes off qualms about playing such a man — “dwelling on moral issues is not what I like to do” — Ganz later admits that he has had his own trials with anti-Semitism, and playing Hitler helped him overcome his hatred of the dictator.
Corinna Harfouch, on the other hand, struggled to explain why she wanted to play Magda Goebbels, who poisoned all six of her children rather than have them grow up without a National Socialist party. “How could it happen?” she queries in the featurette.
Alas, the German-language featurette lacks any clear IDs, which presumably were there before subtitles were added. This considerably detracts from the doc’s value. The featurette still dispenses interesting details — much of the pic was shot in Petersburg because of similar architecture and without the modern signs — but half the time, you don’t know who’s talking. At one point, someone’s speaking in English, but his comments are dubbed over in German, then subtitled.
It’s surprising Sony didn’t take greater care with the featurette — after all “Downfall” did earn an Academy Award nom in the foreign language category.
Toward the featurette’s end, producer Bernd Eichinger pleads for acknowledgement of “our courage” to even discuss this period, though he, too, is unidentified on this disc.
Sixty years later, most of the movie’s real-life counterparts are dead, but the controversy lives on.