Der Untergang aka The Downfall (2004)

Der Untergang aka The Downfall is one of the very best war movies I have ever seen. It’s fascinating, chilling and marvelously well acted. Swiss actor Bruno Ganz gives one of the best Hitler performances I’ve ever seen and this despite the fact that he did at first not want to play the part. If you are familiar with Bruno Ganz you know that this accomplished and gentle actor usually plays very different roles.

The idea to focus on the very last months of Hitler’s life was very well-chosen and to open and finish the movie with the testimony of one of those who were in the bunker with him until his death, gave it an another dimension and explored something that I have never forgotten since I first saw this movie. Traudl Junge was 22 when she was hired to work as the Führer’s personal secretary and went to live with him and his staff in the bunker in Berlin. The whole time while the situation went from serious to hopeless, while the Russians were advancing in the East and the Americans and the other allies in the West, she stayed with Hitler, his wife, the Goebbels and many others in this sinister place. In the opening sequence and the closing part, the real Traudl Junge, meanwhile an old woman, says that she cannot forgive herself for not seeing it. She wasn’t any younger than Sophie Scholl, who died at 22 fighting the Nazis. Youth is no excuse, she says. Others saw it, she didn’t. Including her also underlined the historical accuracy of the movie.

In these final months when most of his generals and officers already knew that the war was lost and that the Russians would take Berlin, Hitler still tried to convince himself that they would still win. At the same time he carefully prepared his and his wife’s suicide, making sure that their bodies wouldn’t fall into the hand’s of the Russians. That Hitler was mad is undeniable but in these final months even the most hardened followers started to realize that he had some serious and fatal issues. He went from one outburst to the next, raging and roaring and putting everyone ill at ease. Some  of the people around him tried to tell him that all was lost but he didn’t listen. Some, like Hitler, still believed the war could be won and others who knew better still stood by his side as they had sworn allegiance. These were the ones who would never leave him. The number of suicides that followed Hitler’s suicide and the German capitulation is amazing.

Although I had seen The Downfall  before there were a lot of details I had forgotten. For example the fact that Hitler didn’t care what was happening to the German people. In his reactions to the generals and officers who were pleading to save the German people one could really see the extent of the madness of this man.

I had also forgotten how intense the fighting was in the city of Berlin and how on the side of the Germans everyone was fighting, even children.

The most chilling part is played by Corinna Harfouch as Magda Goebbels. The wife of Joseph Goebbels and mother of seven children was the exemplary German wife and mother. A fervent Nazi and believer in Nazi ideology she not only decided to follow her husband in his suicide but she took all of her children with her, killing each one of them with her own hands.

If you haven’t seen this movie already, you should really watch it. It’s fantastic and you will be able to see most of the great German actors in outstanding performances.

The Downfall is one of the movies on my list of  10 German War Movies You Must See Before You Die

Ken Loach’s Land and Freedom (1995) A Story of the Spanish Civil War

At the beginning of Ken Loach’s movie Land and Freedom, we see a young woman sorting out the things her late grandfather has left behind. She finds a suitcase full of black and white photos, newspaper articles and letters that show her a hidden part in her grandfather’s life. Little had she known that he had fought in the Spanish Civil War and loved a Spanish woman.

In 1936 David Carr (Ian Hart) is an unemployed miner and member of the British Communist Party. When someone from the Spanish Communist Party shows up and tells them about the Civil War in Spain in which the people fight against General Franco’s Army and the rich landowners, David spontaneously decides to go to Spain and fight for the rights of the people.

On his train journey he meets people from the Spanish militia, part of the POUM, a communist group that fights independently of the International Stalinist Brigades. He has no particular place to be and decides to join them. The people in the little group he is fighting with are all idealists. They come from all over the world, the US, Germany, Italy, Ireland, the UK. They want to fight for the rights of the peasants and the poor and not join the Stalinist Brigades which they consider to be corrupt and only interested in their own cause.

David who at first seems to think he is living some kind of adventure, soon faces the harsh reality. Not only is the fighting often heavy and there are casualties but they are badly trained and equipped and the Stalinists keep the weapons from them. When one of those faulty guns explodes, David is injured and sent to the hospital. Blanca, one of the group visits him in Barcelona, after he has come out of the hospital. They spend a night together but she leaves disgusted when she finds out that David has decided to join the Stalinists.

David will regret his decision soon enough and return to his old POUM group. The movie ends tragically and on a note of utter disillusionment.

Land and Freedom was absolutely not what I had expected and I assume that is exactly what Ken Loach was aiming for. We all have our ideas about the Spanish Civil War, some very romantic ones mostly. We know that Hemingway fought in Spain and so many other writers, painters… It seemed to have been one of the very rare wars with a justified cause to fight for. Ken Loach destroys all our romantic ideas and that is why the movie is good and annoying at the same time. He tries to show how it must have been. The fights and differences within the Communist Party and their subgroups, the endless talking and theorizations. The middle part of the movie is one long annoying and boring conversation and dispute about collectivism.

An aspect I wasn’t familiar with is the fact that women were only allowed to fight alongside the men at the beginning of the war. Later it was decided that they had to do “womanly” things like cooking or being nurses. I thought that women fought all through this war. Another shattered illusion.

Loach has earned a lot of praise and got also a lot of scolding for this movie. Some think that finally someone told it as it was, others think he dirtied the memory of the Spanish Civil War.

I am a fan of Ken Loach‘s movies, he has done quite a few that I liked a lot, although I wouldn’t go as far as saying that I liked Land and Freedom, I must say, I appreciated it. I felt somewhat stupid for having to realize that my idea of the Spanish Civil War had maybe been a tad too romantic as well.

Unfortunately there was no trailer of Land and Freedom, only the first part of the movie.

Pathfinders: In the Company of Strangers (2011) or The Movie That Doesn’t Deserve My Attention!

Untold and lost history. A true story of the American Pathfinders, the volunteer paratroopers whose deadly mission was to land 30 minutes before the Normandy invasion, locate and mark strategic “drop zones” and set up the top-secret navigation equipment needed to guide the main airborne assault on D-Day. Written by Charlie Armstrong (from IMdB)

Pathfinders:In the Company of Strangers is one of the very rare movies I had to stop watching after 15 minutes knowing that I would not give it a second try. No way! I was at first not sure whether I had a problem with my TV or BluRay Player or both or with my eyes even. Surely no one would shoot a movie like this, would they? Like this meaning cutting half of the head off in every single take, varying only as much as occasionally the left half was missing, in other instances the top, sometimes the bottom or the right half. What the heck? At other moments the whole picture was moving so weirdly that I started to assume the camera man was not entirely sober. The acting was painfully unconvincing from the first moment on as well. Amateur does not need to equal wooden doll who speaks as if reading the text while talking…

Reading the blurb, I’m sure I’m not the only one who did/would assume it could be an interesting movie. Well, it isn’t. It’s dodgy and badly filmed.

Here’s another “enthusiastic” take

The War Movie Buff

War Movies Set in Ancient Greece: A List

While I was compiling this list I realized that I have seen more war movies set in Roman times than movies set in Ancient Greece. Maybe it isn’t surprising as there has not been a proper “Ancient Greece Wave” yet. Most of the movies I found depict the story of Helen of Troy. Surprising. The most famous one is certainly Troy, closely followed by 300. I don’t mind them but they are not among my favourites either. In any case I prefer 300, I must say it is quite special and I included it on my List of 15 Most Original War Movies. My problem with Troy is the fact that I don’t like some of the actors (Who? Guess!).

  • Helen of Troy (US 1956) directed by Robert Wise, starring  Rossana Podesta, Jacques Sernas, Cedric Hardwicke
  • Esther and the King  (IT/US 1960) directed by Raoul Walsh, starring Joan Collins, Richard Egan, Denis O’Dea
  • The 300 Spartans (US 1960) directed by Rudolph Maté, starring Richard Egan, Ralph Richardson. Persian wars.
  • The Trojan Horse aka La guerra di Troia (IT/FR1961) directed by Giorgio Ferroni, starring Steve Reeves, Juliette Mayniel, Edy Vessel, Lidia Alfonsi, John Drew Barrymore
  • The Trojan Women (GB/ US/GRC 1971) directed by Mihalis Kakogiannis, starring Katharine Hepburn, Vanessa Redgrave
  • Helen of Troy (US 2003, TV series ) directed by John Kent Harrison, starring  Sienna Guillory, Matthew Marsden, Rufus Sewell, John Rhys-Davies
  • Troy (US/MLT/GB 2004) directed by Wolfgang Petersen, starring Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom, Diane Kruger
  • 300  (US 2007) directed by Zack Snyder, starring Gerard Butler, Lena Headey. Persian wars. (see my review)

Have you seen any of these movies? Which ones do you like? And which are others that need to be included?

Is The Fallen (2004) The Final Sacrifice or Letters from the Dead?

It does happen quite often that I like movies less than most people but not in this case. People either like or hate The Fallen but there seem to be much more who do not like it. I don’t really understand why but I’m not sure I have seen The Fallen. I have watched The Final Sacrifce which can’t even be found on IMDb. An amazon reviewer states that The Final Sacrifice is a remake of The Fallen by the same director with the same actors??? I seem to remember having seen the beginning of the movie a few years back but something stopped me and when I started watching the other day it took quite a while until I got that I was watching The Fallen. Meanwhile I found out that Ari Traub directed and earlier version called Letters from the Dead (2003). Very confusing. Be it as it may, I hope one of my readers knows more. In any case, the movie I have seen, called The Final Sacrifice, was not a bad movie at all. On the very contrary.

It is almost the end of WWII. We are in Northern Italy, in the Alps, in some outpost guarded by Italian and German troops who do not get along well. The movie is trilingual (which might have been a reason for the lack of appreciation) and for once the actors are of the “correct nationality”. No silly American flavored Italian.

The Germans try to defend their line against the attacking Americans. The Italians who should help, are, apart from an aristocratic officer, not that keen on assisting. The people and villages around them are their people, their families. More and more they think it is unjustified that they have been dragged into this war by their government. Many of the farmers around are selling goods on the black market, others join the Resistance.

When the Italian army and Italian Resistance meet, it’s a sad affair. Usually no one shoots and a few soldiers desert but as soon as the Germans turn up, there will be severe punishment for every one.

The Americans seem to be enjoying their stay in Italy. It isn’t as rough as Africa, nor as bloody as France or Belgium. At least not at this point in time. And they know they are winning which helps as well.

The Final Sacrifice of the title is a last desperate attempt of a German officer, who was a real moron all through the movie, to fight off the enemy almost on his own. The orders are to guard the post no matter what. Knowing the order makes no sense and the end is coming, he tries to save at least his men.

Admittedly the American parts were not that perfect, the German point of view was on the sentimental side but, and that’s why this movie gets 3.5 from me, the Italian point of view is extremely well told. It shows how delicate, complicated, desperate their situation was. The movie is also in a clichéd way funny, the difference between the Germans and the Italians leads to one slapstick-like clash after the other.

As I said, I liked it, it isn’t fantastic and will not make a Top 100 but it is a worthy attempt at showing a part of history that hasn’t been explored enough, namely the role of Italy in WWII.

I suggest you watch it and come back and tell me how you liked it.