"Plumbed such depths"
by Salvatore Trapani - Close Up
- Artist, critic and television director and the director of The Downfall, a difficult film which has become a topic of debate
Artist, critic and television director Oliver Hirschbiegel is the director of The Downfall, a difficult film – because of its subject matter and above all the choice to "humanise" the character of Hitler – which has become a topic of debate. We asked him about all this at the last Berlinale.
Why pick a subject which few would consider almost impossible to film ?
When Bernd Eichinger, the film’s producer and scriptwriter, offered the script to me, I hesitated. As a German, and although I’ve obviously always been interested in this episode of our history, I ever reacted to the idea of nazism as a taboo. But I still wondered how the Germans – a people whose cultural ancestors included Bach, Wagner and Kant – could have plumbed such depths. That’s why I ended up agreeing to do the film.
Has your film, The Downfall, answered all your questions?
Yes, although there are still gaps. Joachim Fest’s book and the accounts of eye-witnesses I interviewed made me realise that the quasi-love affair – for all its violence and terror – between Hitler and the German people was not in the least transcendental.
You also said that the German people felt insecure. What do you mean by that?
We Germans tend to be suspicious of life. The Nazis recreated an artificial reality around which they erected ramparts of violence, although in so doing they were providing the people with direction. We followed them to the abyss.
Bruno Ganz is a living legend in the German cinema. Don’t you think, however, that he occasionally hams it up?
Not at all. Ganz put his body and soul into this role. He made use, for example, of a contemporary recording where Hitler is speaking in his normal voice to a Finnish diplomat. He also had tuition in Austrian dialect to perfect his diction. The first time he appeared on the set complete with wig and false moustache, he scared the living daylights out of us: you would have sworn it was the Führer in person.
Born in 1957 in Hamburg, Oliver Hirschbiegel, founder of the critical review Infermental, started out in the business by creating video installations and other artistic performances before becoming a director for ZDF channel, for which he made a series of television films, including episodes of Inspector Rex.
His first film as a "big screen" director was Das Experiment, a film based on a real experiment conducted in 1971 at the University of Stanford and which tells the story of a group of men (the alienated and the incarcerated) locked up by a sociologist in order for the latter to analyse the relationships that can arise when human beings find themselves in an extreme situation.
Mein letzter Film (Mon dernier film), which he made in 2002, is also about control. The splendid Hannelore Elsner plays the part of Maria, who installs in her home a small video camera that is electronically controlled from outside her apartment.
The DownfallHirschbiegel’s third film. Breathtakingly successful at the German box office, it was also nominated for an Oscar in the “Best Foreign Film” category.