Blu-ray Review: Downfall: Collector's Edition | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Wednesday, November 20th, 2019  

Downfall: Collector’s Edition

Studio: Shout! Factory

Mar 19, 2018 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

An excerpt from Im toten Winkel (2002) commences Downfall’s descent into the final ten days of Adolf Hitler’s inexorable rule over Germany, in which the actual Traudl Junge expresses shame for once admiring the dictator. Beginning two-and-half years prior when Hitler (Bruno Ganz) hires Junge (Alexandra Maria Lara) to be his secretary, the timeline then jumps to the autocrat’s birthday during the Battle of Berlin in 1945, where the main cast navigates a city besieged. The final defeat of the Nazi regime is experienced through a complex amalgamation of Berlin’s panicked citizens, the remnants of Germany’s Wehrmacht and Schutzstaffel, and Hitler’s inner circle deep in the bowels of the Führerbunker.

The late legendary producer and writer Bernd Eichinger based Downfall upon several significant personal memoirs, most notably Inside Hitler's Bunker by Joachim Fest and Until the Final Hour by Traudl Junge and Melissa Müller. Numerous other historical accounts and sources were pooled together in order for director Oliver Hirschbiegel to accurately reconstruct life and death inside Hitler’s bunker. Eichinger had shopped the screenplay to Hirschbiegel for many months before he finally agreed to craft the film, committing to the project to paint a fully-fledged and human portrayal of Hitler and Nazi Germany in their death throes. This taboo decision unleashed a flurry of lively debate in Germany on whether or not they should “show the monster as a human being”, so the production existed under intense scrutiny until release.

Becoming highly critically and commercially successful when premiering in September 2004, it was subsequently nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and was ranked 48th in Empire magazine's “The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema”. For a film of such raw and stunning power, such praise couldn’t be more deserved.

From its first moments, you can tell that you are watching something profoundly important and reticent of any bells and whistles of a studio-polished biopic. The reconstructed bunker is stunningly attentive to detail; each claustrophobic moment inching towards oblivion is that much more tensely mesmerizing due to Bernd Lepel’s stellar production design. Rainer Klausmann’s cinematography snakes tirelessly through the war-torn streets of Berlin and the narrow concrete halls of the Führerbunker in documentary-esque fashion; yet it remains heavily reminiscent of Jost Vacano’s taut, flowing and frantic camerawork in Wolfgang Petersen’s Das Boot.

However, the cast is without a doubt the true headlining element of the film. There are so many talented professionals here doing some of their best work, that a proper acknowledgement would just be a cold reading of the ending credits. The biggest supporting standouts are Corinna Harfouch and Ulrich Matthes as Magda and Joseph Goebbels, Christian Berkel as Prof. Ernst-Günther Schenck, and Juliane Köhler as Eva Braun. Ganz’s Hitler and Lara’s Junge are the brightest stars of all, delivering performances so chilling and realistic, that it’s almost impossible to imagine there could be anyone who would do the job better.

Shout! Factory has re-released the film on a one-disc collector’s edition Blu-ray, loaded down with supplemental features and an HD remaster of the original print. Near an hour of cast and crew interviews, a pair of behind-the-scenes featurettes, an interview with Melissa Müller on the real-life Junge, an image gallery, and a “making of” documentary (that is burdened by several digital glitches) will satisfy any cinephile or history buff’s intrigue. Though the best supplementation is easily the eloquent and charming audio commentary by Hirschbiegel, who relays the whole production’s aims and techniques at an easily digestible pace.

Downfall remains one of the most brutally impactful World War II narrative films made to this date, honestly only surpassed by Elem Klimov’s Come and See and Mori Masaki’s Barefoot Gen. It is a must-watch, and the collector’s edition is almost as equally a must-have.



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