Critics pan Hitler movie as 'worst comedy of the year'

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The Independent Online

A film that attempts to "humanise" Adolf Hitler by portraying the Nazi leader during his final 12 desperate days in a bunker beneath the ruins of Berlin opened in Germany yesterday, amid huge controversy and claims that the picture was the "worst comedy of the year".

The €13m (£8.8m) Der Untergang or The Downfall has had blanket coverage in the German media before of its general release and several commentators have hailed the film as a work that "ushers in a new historical evaluation" of the Nazi era.

The producer, Bernd Eichinger, 55 of Das Boot fame, who spent more than two years shooting the film in St Petersburg, said the film was an attempt to "break the taboos and demonisation" surrounding Hitler by showing his human side. "My challenge was to do something that nobody has so far dared to do, and that is to give the people who were central protagonists of the Nazi regime three-dimensional characters,"Mr Eichinger said.

However, Germany's cinema critics appeared to have given the film a collective thumbs down. Some even suggested the 170-minute epic was little more than a bad farce. "The German public will see a film that is far too long, ridiculous and ultimately banal," wrote Berlin's Der Tagesspiegel newspaper. "Eichinger and his director have involuntarily turned out the worst comedy of the year."

Der Spiegel magazine was equally caustic: "One does not need a €13m film which is about as harmless and superficial as a television soap opera to make the banal observation that humankind can be evil," it wrote yesterday. Cinemagoers, who had seen the film at a theatre just yards from where Hitler died, in Postdamer Platz, had a mixed reaction. Egon Savelsberg, 72, a Berlin Jew, who spent his childhood hiding from the Nazis, said: "The film was antiseptic. The human Hitler didn't really work. I am left with no special emotion." Sylvie Breit, a German-born Australian, said: "It's high time that a film like this was made. It shows how people remained utterly subservient to Hitler, even when his regime was doomed."

Der Untergang is based on the memoirs of Traudl Junge, Hitler's personal secretary, and the German historian Joachim Fest's 2002 account of the fall of the Third Reich. It gives what attempts to be a fly-on-the-wall portrayal of life in the Führerbunker as the Red Army closes in on Berlin.

Hitler, played by the Swiss actor Bruno Ganz, emerges as a desperate figure afflicted by an uncontrollable tremor in his left arm, who bawls out his generals, cuddles the children of Joseph Goebbels, launches into virulent anti-Semitic tirades and, shortly before slipping away to shoot himself, congratulates his cook for dishing up an "excellent" meal of vegetarian ravioli. The Holocaust is mentioned only in passing.

The film rarely moves from the claustrophobic confines of the bunker to the streets of Berlin where fanatical Hitler Youth members are trying to stop the Soviet advance.

Yet Der Untergang has moments worthy of Monty Python: Hitler's desk is decorated with a gold model of his pet alsatian "Blondi" and when his future secretary turns up for interview she is told: "Sorry, the Führer's out taking the dog for a walk."

When his secretary confides to Eva Braun, "I cannot understand him, he is so nice and then he says these terrible things", Braun replies: "Oh you mean when he's being the Führer!" The farcical elements of the film reach a climax when Blondi, having just been dispatched with a cyanide capsule, is carted up the steps of the bunker in a blanket and incinerated.