by Ramin Mazaheri for The Saker Blog
The main problem with the recent English movie The Death of Stalin (2017) is that it’s a comedy… but it’s just not funny.
And that’s really too bad, because its director, Armando Iannucci, was one of the driving forces behind the most hilarious satire of TV news ever, The Day Today (1994). Those six 30-minute send-ups of journalism have never been topped. The anchorman’s repeated grillings of hapless correspondent Peter O’Hanraha-hanrahan are the stuff of my hilarious nightmares as a PressTV correspondent. The show also gave us sports reporter Alan Partridge, who went on to huge fame in the UK yet remains criminally-underappreciated in the US. One can never give editorial cartoonists any respect after seeing how incredibly facile their cartoons really are, once they have been re-enacted by Brant, the Physical Cartoonist.
So Iannucci is clearly a genius of political satire, and – socialist that I am – I was fully prepared to bust a gut laughing in the theater. Unfortunately The Death of Stalin is far more of a letdown than Iannucci’s pretty-good – and Oscar-nominated – political satire In the Loop (2009).
In Stalin the running joke is that the USSR’s leaders were all awkwardly bumbling Englishmen with posh accents – apparently the Politburo was composed of Hugh Grant-clones. The movie has almost zero audible laughs, and truly provokes just a few amused smiles.
On a subconscious / propaganda level: the average postwar Soviet citizen has never been exposed to piped water, while the only minister with a non-posh accent is – predictably – the Minister of Labor. On the overt political level, Stalin is absolutely & unequivocally a murdering, domineering, power-hungry tyrant – case closed.
This letdown of a movie is not anywhere as interesting as the Soviet film The Fall of Berlin (1950), but it at least serves as an interesting bookend and point of comparison for cinematic depictions of Stalin. The Fall of Berlin is widely remembered solely for being the apex of the cult of Stalin, according to many thinkers and intellectuals, including Slavoj Žižek.
I agree, the movie certainly is over-the-top in promoting Stalin. He is so omnipresent that it reminded me of a famous episode on The Simpsons: Homer has been chosen to voice a new character on the ultra-violent cat-and-mouse centered “The Itchy and Scratchy Show”. Homer’s new character, Poochie the Dog, is not a hit…and Homer’s low-IQ ideas to boost Poochie’s popularity are rather Stalinist: “Whenever Poochie’s not onscreen, all the other characters should be asking, ‘Where’s Poochie?’” The writers of The Fall of Berlin apparently had a similar idea in mind.
But it is unfortunate that an analysis dominated by anti-Stalinism is the best-known legacy of The Fall of Berlin because the movie has tremendous historical importance: It was the first cinematic depiction of the fall of Berlin and, crucially, it was the first portrayal of the final days in Hitler’s bunker. It preceded by 5 years Germany’s The Last Ten Days, which I will also discuss here.
So even though the pro-Stalin propaganda is of a Homer Simpson-like heavy-handedness, it is balanced by the fact that whenever Stalin is not onscreen, Hitler usually is. Therefore, the movie is not really about Stalin, but about the very real strategic duel between the two primary protagonists of World War II.
Is that not a rather fascinating and vital topic to see on the big screen, especially in 1950? Analysing and comparing the two yields much more cultural understanding than just reproaching the cult of Stalin.
Such an analysis is further enriched by adding in the 2004 German box office smash Downfall (2004) which also covers the last days in Hitler’s bunker. The problem there is that Downfall truly portrays Hitler as a sweet and tender person…as outrageous and historically-nihilist as that sounds! However, Downfall does make an interesting capstone to these four movies which discussed the deaths of the primary leaders in World War II.
I wish I had more to say about The Death of Stalin, but it was a total comedic misfire – and I clearly enjoy seeing my own side lampooned.
Soviet-produced ‘The Battle of Berlin’ – now THAT was how we imagined Hitler
Of course Stalin is depicted positively in this Soviet-era film – he did lead the more ethical and winning side, no?
Maybe in real-life he was not as avuncular and calm as in this movie, but there’s no doubt that Hitler is accurately portrayed for what he was: a raging, racist, methamphetamine addict who was the last Western imperialist monarch.
It is the most honest portrayal of Hitler in cinema, and that virtue far outweighs the flaws of the pro-Stalin propaganda. There are few scenes more gratifying seeing his return at the start of Part II: Hitler cringing and shrinking in the light, in disbelief.
Everything bad, yet true, about Hitler and his political ideology is on full display: his anti-Slav racism (which is never discussed in the West, as all that cultural space is taken up by his anti-Jewish racism (forget about the Roma, of course)), his personal doctor who knows he has been reduced to a drug pusher, his hysterical & messianic tirades about freeing the world from communism (and thus democracy), his demand for “your unflinching fanaticism”, his obsession with displays of physical “vigour”, and much else.
Considering that the USSR won and saved the world from the Germans…surely we can give the Soviets a bit of leeway in favor of Stalin’s positive depiction. But Hitler? No: He must be shown for what he was – not a monster (as that implies he was not a human), but a right-wing, racist, anti-socialist, egocentric fanatic. And The Fall of Berlin gives us this necessary historical reality and artistic condemnation by showing the true Hitler: the gangster and gambler, high & raging then crashing & quaking, the bully and coward, finally fleeing the judgment of the world.
The movie pulls no political punches elsewhere: it has characters revealing the collusion of the Vatican and Sweden; the luxury-loving (and luxury-stealing) German capitalist invaders; Churchill is presented as what he was – a repugnant, cynical, untrustworthy, monarchy-worshipper.
The sole real propaganda complaint I have is at the end of Part 1, when FDR amazingly raises a toast to Stalin’s close ally Kalinin, the classic empty bureaucratic suit. I highly doubt that happened. Although maybe the writers were trying to show the true soulless nature of the American bureaucracy? But while that interpretation works now, I highly doubt they were trying to sneak that past Stalin back then….
While the average Soviet soldier is presented as very loyal to Stalin, the German army is fairly and properly presented as fanatically devoted to Hitler, which is what those drug addicts were. Indeed, it is astounding that it took until 2015 for a book to come out which unveiled this fact, which was the root of the alleged “military genius” of the Germans: methamphetamine. Their rampant drug use is something which has been amazingly covered up by the German people and their historians, even though it cannot be discussed enough because it so completely punctures their ego regarding their alleged superior capacities. But this article will show just how much trouble the Germans obviously have when it comes to being honest with themselves. The multiethnic Soviets have no such issues diagnosing Germany’s flaws: The German army is shown for its embedded racism, its role in the concentration camps and it’s refusal to stand up to Hitler time after time after time.
It’s undeniable that cinema patrons in 1950 deserved to be treated to a rendering of the world’s most insane shotgun wedding – between Hitler and Eva Braun. Indeed, it took the entire Red Army to finally make an honest man out of Hitler….
On a social level capitalism is, perhaps more than anything else, a cult of the individual. Despite the unnecessary pro-Stalin scenes, it is vital for modern socialists to reject the notion that socialism must inevitably lead to a cult of the individual because this flaw is clearly far more present in the “great man” worshipping West. Even if cults of Stalin, Korea’s Kim and Libya’s Ghadaffi existed, they do not in other socialist-inspired countries like Algeria, Iran and elsewhere. Fidel Castro certainly understood this perfectly, as his final request was that there be no statutes or monuments of him in Cuba: socialism has learned a lot since 1950 – capitalism (and Germany) has not, however, and this fact must be broadcast widely.
‘The Last Ten Days’ – who did Germany blame, and promote, 10 years after the war?
The best thing about this 1955 mini mea-culpa movie is that it ends how everybody everywhere wanted it to end: Hitler’s corpse in a pit and on fire, clearly a metaphor that he is burning in hell.
Nobody can begrudge the Germans for wanting to leave the theatre with that image in their minds, no matter how supportive of the Nazis they had been (whether under the influence of meth or not).
But what was amazing was the choice to then superimpose the face of the movie’s protagonist – a Nazi officer – over Hitler’s funeral pyre, and to repeat his dying words. The credits roll just after his image, surrounded by Hitler’s crematory flames, repeats: “Be alert. Never say ‘jawohl’ again.”
“Jawohl” is a German military phrase signifying that an order from a superior will be immediately obeyed. What was not included from the character’s original death scene was what he said after this injunction against more jawohl-ing: “This is how this whole mess started.”
So, to 1955 Germany, the problem was unthinking militarism…and not capitalism, racism, imperialism or elitism. Indeed, their apparent diagnosis is that the lack of sufficient individualism within the military was the core problem. Well, that’s one issue…but there are certainly other, larger structural and societal issues which caused the rise and success of the German war machine.
It’s significant for German viewers that the hero and moral centre of this movie was an officer and not a regular-class soldier. Of course, this was not the case in the socialist The Fall of Berlin, where the only main character besides Stalin and Hitler is a broad-faced steelworker-turned-soldier. This decision means that instead of dealing with the guilt of their alleged elites, the movie actually exonerates and elevates the officer class – the so-called “talented 10%” or neo-aristocracy.
This is not Stalinist “great leader” propaganda, but it certainly is propaganda of a different sort: German moviegoers were subtly encouraged to remain an essentially aristocratic society even as the last German imperial monarch was roasting. The average German (who was not a Nazi officer) is subtly told – via this propaganda / intellectual choice of the class of the protagonist – to support the elites currently in charge in 1955: they must have been chosen to lead postwar Germany because they were the few “good officers” who stood up for right, right? The problems with encouraging such a view in 1955 Germany should be obvious to all.
(Of course, Germany has not changed much: In Downfall the moral center is yet another officer – this time a doctor. Technocratic modern Germany is often said to worship PhDs – they are the “most qualified” to lead, no? LOL, no.)
Whereas the Soviet production showed Hitler fanatics in all the ranks of German society, the only such radicals in this film were bald, hateful old men and Hitler himself. It is as if Hitler made it to the top – and stayed there – solely by bullying. If this movie is to be believed, the Nazis arose only because old women spoke up too late.
There is no shortage of Western criticism of The Fall of Berlin, but where is the same massive attention and condemnation for Germany’s far less honest and far less democratic portrayal? Of course, there is no “pro-Russian lobby” in the West, so no such attention can be given.
The Last Ten Days is far braver, more critical and more honest than its German counterpart 49 years later, but that movie set an absurdly low bar….
Germany’s ‘Downfall’ – Who knew Hitler was such a great guy?
Amazingly, this was the first German movie to star Hitler since…The Last Ten Days. Why were no German actors and movie-people willing to stage a movie about Hitler for so very, very long? There is something hugely wrong about that – clearly, Germany has not come to proper terms with Hitler and their fascist era…and there is abundant proof of that in this movie.
The 21st century ridiculing of Stalin is one thing, but the humanisation of Hitler? Now that is hugely staggering, and politically it is extremely dangerous. I am not out on a limb here – Hitler’s humanisation was a common criticism when the movie came out. From The Guardian:
“The scenes in Downfall which have caused most outrage – those which show Hitler being nice to his dog and his secretaries or complimenting the cook on a plate of vegetarian ravioli – are all straight from the historical record. In only a couple of places does Eichinger (the director) fictionalise the story and stray towards Hollywood convention.”
All 3 movies about Germany discussed here depict Hitler’s love for his dog “Blondie”. (Indeed, anytime a vegetarian tries to act high-and-mighty we meat-eaters can just point to their greatest example – the animal-loving Hitler.) Despite this awareness that showing Hitler’s humanity was a problem, it seems that no professional movie reviewer found it cause enough for a negative review – the notices for Downfall were universally glowing.
The common trope was: it’s good to see Hitler as a normal person, because that shows how easy evil can arise, and this makes evil seem even more evil. Well, that’s one point of view…but Hitler sure was more terrifying and reprehensible in The Fall of Berlin, at least to me. However, my problem was not that there was just one example of Hitler showing humanity, but example after example after example after example!
Who wrote this movie – Hitler’s grandson?! There are so many tiny scenes which unambiguously show:
Hitler the grateful dinner guest; Hitler the tender smoocher of Eva, even though he surely was among the least concerned with romance in the history of humanity; Hitler the gentleman, respectful of the “lady from Munich”; Hitler the forgiving boss, who mildly responds to poor secretarial work with “I suggest we try it again”; Hitler the hard-working World War I volunteer who admirably worked his way up; Hitler the patient boss who, far from indulging in angry rages, calmly says, “I think I have been very clear”; Hitler the modern Everyman who is “fed up with politics”, like most everyone else is; Hitler the great military planner who was merely not told of losses of by his generals; Hitler the anti-bureaucratic / anti-elitist Everyman who “hates party bosses” (labor bosses?); Hitler who resembles a “lama priest” (in a movie by the absurdly feudal-Tibet-loving West), despite clearly not being possibly worthy of such a description; Hitler as a victimised cog in a machine; Hitler the one who is deserted; humble Hitler who says, “I made many mistakes,”; Hitler the proud local citizen who can’t leave his “beloved” Berlin; Hitler the one who is betrayed; grandfatherly Hitler, who has gray hair and a gray moustache in this movie; Alzheimer Hitler with the one shaky hand, making it impossible for a viewer to not empathise with him; over and over, it’s Hitler the victim.
Hitler was clearly a great guy! Too bad we can’t hang out with him and introduce him to our sisters.
But does any of that sound like Hitler to you?
How can there be so many scenes which even imply that Hitler is kind, patient, democratic, romantic, victimised, etc.? There are surely too many of these to be “accidents” or “misinterpretations” on my part.
The reality is that NONE of these scenes which show Hitler’s positives – even if they are “historically accurate”, as the director claimed – should be in any movie…unless you are making a pro-Nazi production. Hitler CANNOT be portrayed as a victim – only as a victimizer. A movie such as this is a reason why many socialist countries have censorship: Downfall is politically dangerous, reactionary, revisionist and radical. Maybe Downfall is more “entertaining” by creating conflicting sympathies, but only the 1% benefits from promoting art which is based around a cult of entertainment.
And this film was from Germany’s best-known international director. The film was even nominated for an Oscar in the United States for Best Foreign Film…because it showed the humanity of Hitler?!
A key problem is that acting in 1950 USSR and acting in the 21st century West is quite different: the actor playing Hitler in Downfall is doing what modern actors are told to do – not judge their character…even when that character is Hitler. In 1950 USSR the actor took a back seat – and had fewer close-ups – to the plot, the viewer’s experience, and the moral. The 21st century actor cares more about showing off his own acting technique, heart & soul, empathy & humanity – and thus Hitler’s heart & soul – rather than Hitler’s evil character and deeds. This is a textbook example of why actors simply cannot be lionised as artists – they simply do not care about anyone but themselves and will do anything to remain on camera – and yet no group is more respected and admired in the West today.
Another issue is the claim, as was relayed by The Guardian, that “historical accuracy” – technical merit – trumps ideological quality. The result is the clear inability to make “good propaganda” (which is not an oxymoron), and which also results in – at best – “unwitting propaganda” like this film. The director is supposed to know better – he did not. Or he just knew what puts people in the seats in Germany & the West and what does not – this movie unsurprisingly put his production company back into the red. (Similarly, The Death of Stalin was critically acclaimed, despite being a comedy which lacks laughs: it demonised Stalin, therefore it was good (good Western propaganda, that is).)
But beyond the appallingly positive depiction of Hitler is how the rest of Germany is let off the hook as well. There were many more reprehensible figures in The Last Ten Days, but Goebbels is the only ugly, scary, reprehensible character here. Hitler remains the only adult character who is a bigot, an atheist, or a believer in racial biological determinism. There are German kids defending Berlin in the final days who are fanatics, yes, but they get a pass from the viewer because they can’t be expected to know any better. There is barely a mention of Jews and of course none of Slav hatred. Hitler says he “takes all responsibility” for the infamous Nazi medical experiments – case closed on that one, apparently. Himmler is the only addict, as there is not even a mention of Hitler’s drug addiction – the viewer may leave thinking Hitler’s shaking hand was due simply to old age.
Downfall, despite appearing long after the Western ban on graphic violence, cannot even show Hitler’s suicide. If there was anybody the world wanted to see suffer, it would be Hitler; if we’re going to morbidly disgust ourselves, let’s do so for Hitler, right? Or let’s not, rather: this desire was satiated in Quentin Tarantino’s boring and intellectually vapid Inglorious Basterds, where Hitler’s face is literally machine-gunned to a pulp…it is quite disgusting. (Everything after Pulp Fiction suffers from these same flaws: disappointingly, it has been proven that Tarantino actually has nothing to say, intellectually, and his main innovation is his “ability” to show gore and violence to a 1970s soul music soundtrack.)
In Downfall Hitler’s last words are “Tomorrow I’ll be hated by millions”: finally, we have a mea culpa. Yes you will be Adolf, and it’s also implied that he was currently being loved by millions of Germans, which was certainly the case.
But it’s too bad that, just as in The Last Ten Days, the German director includes something which totally ruins this morally and politically correct message. Hitler surprisingly adds: “But that’s how it is.”
This changes the meaning dramatically: it is now as if his downfall was just “politics as usual”; it’s just part of humankind’s sinning nature that we must endure politics, which simply repeats itself from one horror to the next.
No, the German war machine was not just “how it is” – this is a case of German nihilism. Humanity has evolved beyond the Mongol war machine of the 13th century. I believe this because: I am not a nihilist. I also have no Nazi sympathies, nor the desire to humanise an imperialist war machine. This nihilism is clearly on the part of the director and screenwriter, because Hitler was undoubtedly a highly-motivated idealist – it’s too bad he was so fanatically devoted to such terrible political and social ideals.
Journalists say: “If you want to read the truth about your country, read the foreign press.” That’s a bit much, perhaps, but maybe it is true for cinema, because Germany keeps proving unable to tell the truth about their past?
Ultimately, Downfall definitely presents Hitler as only rarely raging, only rarely racist & even less rarely egoistical – he’s mostly just sad that his plans didn’t work out…and who can’t identify with that?
This humanisation of Hitler is far, far more dangerous propaganda than the idea that Stalin was the main reason the Soviets defeated the Nazi empire, no?
And yet can we imagine a movie “humanising” Stalin getting an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film? Please….
Almost hilariously, it gets worse: The only person in the bunker nicer than Hitler was Eva Braun!
Did we need to rehabilitate Eva too? Only if we are making Hollywood trash to sell tickets
It’s the same thing as her hubby Adolf: time after time after time, there’s Eva doing something relatable and admirable:
Eva on the phone and worried for a friend; Eva giving her luxury coat away because she “likes fashionable ladies”, showing that she is a secure woman and not a jealous one; Eva generously giving away her emerald jewelry; Eva the good family member, looking out for her sister’s well-being; poor silly Eva who thinks it’s all a dream; unwittingly enabling Eva, who sees Adolf as merely playing the role of “when he is leader”; Eva the craftswoman and woman of taste, who treasures the furniture; easily-contented Eva, who is “happy here” in the bunker (where she is the queen); Eva who knows right from wrong and who begs the film’s younger female protagonist (Hitler’s secretary) to “promise” she’ll escape the evil bunker.
I didn’t know who I’m supposed to like more – Adolf or Eva? What a great couple! Let’s have them over for dinner soon.
In a truly insane subplot which I highly doubt was “historically accurate” and which reveals the trashy nature of this important, well-regarded film: Near-middle aged Eva is still unbelievably desired by the most handsome character in the film – a careerist Obergruppenfuhrer. I have read of no condemnation for this lack of historical accuracy – would you try to make time with Hitler’s woman…in Hitler’s bunker?! Obergruppenfuhrer’s evilness is ultimately not his two-faced careerism, but his cinematic death becomes a certainty once he fails to faithfully wait for the “heroine” Eva and cheats on her with a younger woman. Obergruppenfuhrer failed to realize that Eva, like all 40-something women in the West, are no more than 26 years old in terms of romantic desirability. Therefore, an intelligent viewer realises there could be no better candidate for “character most likely to die an unrepentant Nazi”, and the older female filmgoers will not be disappointed when he dies yelling “Heil Hitler!” Heil Hitler…but I wanna steal your woman, LOL.
Why on earth the humanisation of Eva Braun was needed deserves analysis: does the director and actors think a modern German woman should admire and emulate Eva Braun? The options are: this movie wants to be soap-opera trash; or it is too politically-stupid to have a formal ideology / philosophy to promote; or it is trying to promote a backwards, immoral, reactionary ideology and they think that we are too stupid to see that.
A scene confirming this last option is when Eva and Hitler’s secretary – the film’s protagonist (although maybe that moniker should go to Hitler) – are taking a break outside the bunker and find themselves smoking in front of a pantheistic statue of a goddess (bare-chested, of course), which they admiringly gaze upon. The message seems to be that they are wistfully recalling an idealised past when Germany had retained its pantheistic, goddess-worshiping roots. Maybe Christianity is the problem, as the Nazis claimed to be devout Christians? The two main female characters smoke and ponder this link (perhaps), with no males around to screw things up for them.
But the absurd, unnecessary character of Eva Braun – and I write “character”, because how could Hitler’s girlfriend be as fine a woman as Braun is portrayed to be – also shows that it is simply verboten to criticise women in the 21st century West. Even when the subject is Eva Braun, they should be deified like pantheistic goddesses (domestic goddesses, at least?). Perhaps this is because Anglo-Saxon society is essentially matriarchal, and has been ever since men went off on 3-year ship voyages, leaving women in charge. Though the sailing has stopped, matriarchy surely must exist strongly today: how could it be otherwise, given the explosion in single motherhood in the Anglo-Saxon world?
I’m all for more positive portrays of women in art, but they must be deserved. It is sure that women have been too often ignored or marginalised in history (and this film is primarily serving as “history”, I think we’ll all agree), and that is unacceptable. Eva Braun’s character in The Fall of Berlin was almost totally ignored, but at least the Soviets had the virtue of portraying her negatively when she got some screen time.
The modern refusal to criticise Eva Braun reminded me of the similar inability to criticise Mary Todd Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln’s wife, in Steven Spielberg’s 2012 propaganda epic Lincoln.
Indeed, the only difference between the “100% pro-leader” propaganda of Lincoln and The Fall of Berlin is that Spielberg’s script is much more deft and cinematically modern in pushing its own great leader: the final scene – with Lincoln giving a religious-patriotic speech as a candle burns in the foreground, symbolising his eternal, pure & true flame …would such symbols have been out of place if used for Stalin in 1950? Of course not. Yet for Lincoln that is not considered propaganda…mainly because the West considers themselves “too smart” or “incapable” of propaganda (unlike non-Western nations).
But what was surprising was the totally historically inaccurate rehabilitation of Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln. In reality (though this is likely influenced by Confederate propaganda), she had been mostly remembered for her mental imbalance, excessive spending, public outbursts and for having actually being committed to a mental asylum. And yet in Spielberg’s rendering Mary Todd Lincoln is repeatedly one step ahead of everyone else throughout the film? She truly has her finger on the political and moral pulse of things – she’s a political boss, but confined to stay behind the scenes.
That is historical nonsense. The reality is that portraying Mary Todd Lincoln a shrill, crazy “First Lady” is just not possible – that would defy the unwritten propaganda rules of the United States. It also goes against the “no more Lucille Ball-type women, ever” mentality of the West today. Therefore, for reasons of both class and gender, Mary Todd Lincoln simply had to be elevated to a stature, predominance, ability and agency no matter how overblown it was…just like Stalin was in The Fall of Berlin, and for which that movie is fairly criticized.
Mary Todd Lincoln is not as important as the legacy of Stalin, so it’s no big deal. She probably deserves some sympathy, given that her husband was martyred, the likely Confederate exaggerations of her, and the fact that there’s a lot of rather curious evidence that her husband was gay.
But humanising the literal Hitler-lover Eva Braun? For one thing – that is not feminism at all. It is no more pro-feminist than this week’s absurd article from The New York Times: Was This Powerful Chinese Empress a Feminist Trailblazer? No, Empress Cixi (reign 1861-1908) was not. At all. Empress Cixi was a disaster for China during her 50-year rule. Drugs, foot-binding, colonial domination (for which she was the willing puppet), social disarray – all were rampant under her reign.
Not every woman in power is a feminist, nor good to nor good for women…but this is simply not the view of the West in 2018.
Following the loss of Hillary Clinton, the male-female divide has become the most forcefully exploited divide in Western-style identity politics – everyone from Eva Braun to Empress Cixi has something akin to “hidden virtues” which we men are universally guilty of covering up, misunderstanding, under-appreciating or exploiting.
No: Eva Braun and Empress Cixi (and Hillary) should not be reimagined as “good” people or as “feminists”. Thankfully, such a possibility cannot exist with a socialist (and thus a truly pro-woman) ideology, because they are terrible people for a host of other issues besides their lack of true feminism. But that’s what Downfall did….
Downfall is not even truly all about Hitler, because the final fifth is dedicated to his 20-something, pretty, marginally-conflicted (yet obviously rabidly Nazi-supporting, because she’s in the bunker, LOL) secretary.
Hitler dies (off-screen), and it’s the Russians who violate the subsequent cease fire. Yet the plucky Frau Secretary “has to try to be free” and avoid becoming a prisoner of war, unlike her exhausted, less pretty female friend, whom she leaves behind (Frau Secretary still had some meth left, perhaps?). Frau Secretary is saved from possibly looming rape or death by drunken, partying Russians thanks to a guileless pre-pubescent boy.
The movie ends not with the death of KGB boss Beria (as in The Death of Stalin) nor the death of Hitler, but with this young boy puling a bicycle out from the river and from under a collapsed bridge. He sits on the handlebars as the morally-fine Frau, pedaling and in charge, leads them both safely away. The final scene is such a fine poetic metaphor…too bad it’s a totally inappropriate time for poetry.
But that’s what modern cinema is, and that is what Hollywoodization has truly come to mean: not merely an improbably happy ending, but a totally intellectually and politically vapid ending.
It is easy to to see that Downfall’s main problem is also that of most modern cinema: It cares much more for these poetic metaphors, which are the easy currency of actors, instead of grappling with questions of morality-politics-ideology-history-society. Such metaphors, after a certain familiarity is reached, become completely boring, repetitive, intellectually unsatisfying, and unoriginal to those who can move beyond facile, tabloid, self-centered, television-level drama.
Over and over Downfall shows that it ultimately cares for poetry and not for politics…and yet it was one of just 2 German movies to handle a supremely important political issue in the space of 49 years? That is extremely significant, and much more important than the heavy-handed pro-Stalin propaganda in The Fall of Berlin.
The biggest mistake of Downfall is forgetting that: Hitler is not deserving of poetry.
Poking fun at Stalin is fine, yet it still remains to have been achieved on the big screen. It seemed silly of Russia to ban it…but Iannucci explains why that was actually the right thing to do – there was an election campaign going on in Russia: the Communist Party remains a political force in Russia (it finished second), and this foreign movie could have rather unfairly influenced voters against them, no? Perhaps if the movie was must-be-seen-immediately hilarious that would have trumped political concerns, but that was not a factor….
Rehabilitating and humanising Hitler and Eva Braun has been achieved on the big screen, sadly, and to the delight of Nazis everywhere. In a more weighty issue: Germany still cannot come to grips with its destructive capitalist-imperialism – modern Germany is waging neo-imperialism on the weaker countries of the European Union in 2018, of course.
As Castro’s last wish emphatically demonstrates – socialists have learned from our mistakes, but the capitalists have not: We just don’t get the big production budgets, that’s all.
Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for PressTV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. His work has appeared in various journals, magazines and websites, as well as on radio and television. He can be reached on Facebook.