Thursday, April 07, 2005


This was another film that faces the problem of portraying a man who appears to us more often as a caricature than as a human. Of course, this caricature is much more famous and, as Ian Kershaw has pointed out, there's surprisingly little to worry about in seeing the Hitler of his last days as human. By this point events seemed to have developed their own impetus, and Hitler's personal madness was so far developed that the threat some feel when faced with flesh-and-blood evil in a film or elsewhere is quickly dissipated.

Indeed, while at times during The Woodsman I felt more sympathetic to Bacon's paedophile than I think was intended, this problem never arose at all with Bruno Ganz's superb performance as Hitler. What's presented here is an evil man, trying in vain to rule over the last desperate days of a dying regime. The story's well known and nothing new emerges here - no hint that we might have misjudged him, for example. This film's power lies simply in the sheer spectacle it presents.

If there is anything that's new to say about this period, it could be better said by a book than a film. But a book could never really convey the absurdity of events from moment to moment in Hitler's Bunker, which this film does almost perfectly. With death and the Soviet army on all sides, high-ranking officials discuss the best method of suicide while abandoning themselves to dancing and drink.

More than Hitler with his constant mood swings, it was the madness of those surrounding him - and Eva Braun in particular - that really struck me throughout. Braun's relentless cheeriness - insisting that people continue to dance as bombs fall all around, for example - went well beyond the sort of hysteria we sometimes see in such desperate situations. It was sheer mania; the humanity almost gone. I don't know whether this was intended, of course, but it was certainly an interesting sight.

But such sights are all this film can really give us that's new. It's very well done, deservingly praised, and I recommend it highly. But the chaos and madness had advanced too far by April 1945 for it to present the audience - even a German audience - with anything that might really be uncomfortable. For that, it would have needed to go much further back, to see how these things came to pass. Without that, even the continual insistences that the German people themselves were responsible for their fate can have little impact.

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