Volume 74, Number 43 | March 02 - 08, 2005

Koch On Film

By Ed Koch

Downfall (+)
The film is playing at the Film Forum on West Houston off 6th Avenue. The lines are long, but you can order tickets on line. They do not sell for advance days at the box office. It is well worth getting your tickets either way, even if you have to stand in line.

“Downfall” is based on two books on the last days of Hitler which were spent by him, Eva Braun, who became his wife shortly before he and she committed suicide in the Berlin bunker, and a host of German personalities, including Joseph Goebbels, his wife and children. It is so well done, it has the feel of a documentary, while in fact, the characters are, of course, played by actors. A documentary can have reenactment of certain scenes for which there is no news footage or describe the scenes verbally using pictures to liven the event. When as here you have what appears to be a documentary, but is really a total reenactment by very skilled actors, often referred to as a docu-drama, you can have the best possible presentation.

Of course, documentaries on Hitler and the Third Reich have been shown for years on the History Channel, The Times Discovery Channel, A&E and other cable stations. We all know broadly what happened, yet there are surprises. In his last days, Hitler, played by Bruno Ganz, was totally out of it, occasionally raving, believing there were German armies available to free Berlin surrounded by the Russian armies, when there were not. His faithful secretary, Traudl Jenge (Alexandra Maria Lara) was with him to the end when just before killing his now wife Eva Braun (Juliane Kohler) and then committing suicide, he dictates his will and writes the defeat of Germany was due to the efforts of worldwide Jewry. His SS soldiers at the bunker and generals elsewhere in Berlin with few exceptions were willing to follow him to the end and some committed suicide rather than be captured by the Russians. The Russians are rarely shown, except when the Germans, after Hitler’s death, do send one officer to seek conditions of possible peace and are told “unconditional surrender” is required with no compromise of any kind.

At the end, we see some Germans surrendering to the Russians, but we never see the Mongol army contingents sent by Stalin from Siberia to conquer Berlin and wreak havoc and revenge on the German population for all the suffering the Russians endured during the war. As I recall, they lost 300,000 soldiers taking Berlin alone, and 10 million Russian soldiers died in the whole war. I believe it is near universally accepted that the Allies — primarily Britain and the U.S. — could not have won the war without having the Russians fighting alongside us and making the sacrifices, which included civilian deaths of around 25 million Soviet citizens.

The cruelest Nazi in the bunker appears to be Joseph Goebbels’ wife Magda, played by Corinna Harfouch. He is played by Ulrich Matthes. The murder of the six Goebbels children by their mother is the only pang of sympathy I felt for the Germans, military or civilian. Indeed, I knew about the sending in of the Mongol divisions by Stalin and while they never appeared on screen, I was rooting for them.

The best series on the German-Soviet war on the eastern front is PBS’ “Russia’s War.” I think it is about 10 hours long and was and may still be available from Channel 13 during their fund raising drives. I think it cost $200 by way of a gift to the station and is the dispositive film presenting the war on the eastern front, being mostly Russian newsreels with a superb running commentary in English.

There is no change in the ending — Hitler dies, thank God. The film is about three hours long and well worth seeing.

“Harry and Max” (-)
I saw this film on President’s Day after reading Stephen Holden’s review in The New York Times. He wrote: “True stories of fraternal incest are plentiful, and many involve underage sex. So are stories about boy bands, and some of their members may be gay or sexually confused and fearful of exposure. I’ve known more than one instance in which competing siblings and close friends are driven to sleep with each other’s lovers. ‘Harry and Max’ tosses all this and more into its narrative blender and comes up with chaos.”

Clearly this movie was going to be a mess, but it sounded interesting. However, it is the absolute pits. It consists of dreary dialogue, little action, an undistinguished script, and the acting is nothing special. The role of Harry is played by Bryce Johnson and Max is played by Cole Williams.

- Ed Koch

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