Meewella | Critic

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Tag: Bruno Ganz

QuickView: Wings of Desire (1987)

“Sometimes I’m fed up with my spiritual existence. Instead of forever hovering above I’d like to feel a weight to tie me to Earth.”


A few years before the fall of the Berlin Wall — at a time when it still seemed impossible — Wim Wenders captured the soul of the city in this poetic rumination as a pair of angels watch the populace and listen to their innermost thoughts. Bruno Ganz and Otto Sander are able wordlessly to communicate their love for humans through a simple gaze, or a comforting hand on a shoulder, sensed but unseen. The first hour drifts through the city as we experience countless brief slivers of lives — this, combined with the constant camera movement, can become exhausting, and we are thankful when the angels linger in a library or a circus. Yet it is the amalgamation of those lives in Wings of Desire that constructs a city, and that explores the range of humanity from childlike innocence to aging despair. Wenders uses starkly beautiful black and white imagery to represent the angels’ perspective, and colour to represent that of humans. The recent 4K restoration is the first time audiences can experience Henri Alekan’s black and white cinematography as intended, rather than the tinted adulteration that results from producing monochrome imagery on colour film (a necessary concession to distributing a film that was partially in colour). Producing swooping camera movements before the age of the steadicam required considerable inventiveness and makeshift rigs, and the film makers succeed in creating a floating sensation that we now take for granted with drone footage. The film’s second half becomes more plot-focused as Damiel falls in love and decides to live as a human (Hollywood’s pseudo-remake City of Angels focuses solely on this plot). As Damiel searches the city, cheerfully accepting the aches of incarnation, the Berlin of Wings of Desire is as vital a character as any other. Yet, from just a few years after its release, it feels ever more ephemeral — a celluloid memory of a place that no longer exists.


QuickView: The Party (2017)

“It’s not fake. It’s just sometimes you have to pretend. In order to win.”


A lean, wry comedy in that skewers middle class morality as a group of friends gather to celebrate Janet’s rise to a Ministerial position. Conversations gradually unravel from subtle sniping until the guests are at one another’s throats. Staged across just three rooms of the house and a patio, The Party is theatrical to a fault rather than cinematic. Although there is intrigue as to the secrets each person hides, the superbly talented cast cannot overcome the lack of depth to their equally dislikeable characters. Decidedly less successful than the similarly contained Carnage, it is still an amusing diversion that does not outstay its welcome at just 71 minutes.


Downfall (2004)

director: Oliver Hirschbiegel
starring: Bruno Ganz, Alexandra Maria Laram, Corinna Harfouch, Ulrich Matthes, Juliane Köhler
running time: 156 mins
rating: 15

DownfallThe first internationally released German film to focus on Hitler, Downfall (or “The Downfall” to accurately translate the German title Der Untergang) focuses on the last days not only of the Führer, but of the entire German people, a nation awaiting its inevitable defeat. It ranks amongst the greatest World War Two films in its portrayal of a broken Berlin and particularly in Ganz’ powerhouse performance as the crumbling dictator.

Hirschbiegel approaches his subject with painstaking accuracy, the story largely developed from two sources: Joachim Fest’s Inside Hitler’s Bunker and the memoirs of Traudl Junge. Through eyes of secretary Traudl Junge, the Führer is introduced as a kindly grandfather figure, suggesting a hugely sympathetic portrayal of the man. Nothing could be further from the truth. Whilst Ganz phenomenally nuanced performance has pathos in his shaking hands and often lost daze behind his eyes, he also rants and raves at his generals like a madman, ordering non-existent armies to attack the Soviet lines and cursing the loyal German people for failing him. The mixed approach is subtler than that to which we are used, yet it makes his evil more chillingly real.

HitlerThe film’s most chilling scene is not Ganz’s however, but Corinna Harfouch as the wife of the psychotically loyal Joseph Goebbels. Rather than let her children grow up in a future without national socialism, she elects to kill them instead, forcibly drugging them and then cracking cynaide pills in their mouths. As she moves from one to the next, her conviction is the scariest part of this film. To have heard these same children sing a patriotic German folksong to “Uncle Hitler” earlier on makes it considerably more moving. Truly that is what made Hitler so dangerous: the unquestioning devotion which he inspired in others.

Goebbel's wifeUnlike the average war film, Downfall begins at the end, once defeat is imminent. Its palette of greys paint a gritty, ghostly burnt-out husk of Berlin and the unrelenting pounding of explosions act as a subliminal drain on the viewer, flinching at each near miss. Most of the film’s scenes occur within Hitler’s bunker, with a small cast of his closest generals and aides, evoking a claustrophobia strongly reminiscent of Wolfgang Peterson’s U-boat epic Das Boot. The bunker-mentality is both shocking and incredibly compelling viewing. Eva Braun seems at times on the verge of madness, while the others drink their way to oblivion to avoid accepting their that they are hopelessly trapped.

Perhaps it’s weakest choice was is the central use of Junge, disproportionately increasing her significance. She is clearly intended as a way in for the viewer and an impartial eye through which we can appreciate Hitler’s more vulnerable side. However, her willful naïvity swiftly makes her less accessible and her devotion to Hitler becomes unfathomable, distancing us from our supposed way in. Nevertheless one cannot help but be drawn in by the plight of both the city of Berlin and those caught up around Hitler, struggling to hold onto something, be it a futile hope of victory or merely determination to die rather than surrender.

rating: 3.5/4

"A film is a petrified fountain of thought."

(CC) BY-NC 2003-2023 Priyan Meewella

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