Bernd Eichinger • Producer
by Edoardo Zaccagnini - Close Up
02/05/2005 - Bernd Eichinger, who wrote the screenplay of The Downfall and also produced it, has always been interested in German history, especially the Nazi era. "When I was born, in 1949, Hitler was one of the great unmentionables", admits Eichinger, "The post-war generations only wanted to forget and rebuild; nonetheless, I’ve always been interested in the subject, and soaked up all the information I could get my hands on, from a variety of sources".
When did you decide to produce The Downfall?
I’d been thinking about it for about thirty years. The project as such came later, when I realised that all the information I had accumulated provided me with a draft for a film. No stone had been left unturned: I was ready for the challenge.
Why did you concentrate on the final days of Hitler’s life?
If I elected to tell the story of the Führer’s final twelve days, it’s because I’d been wondering about the death of this terrifying character who changed the fate of the human race for a long time. The question I asked myself was this: why didn’t the Germans react? Why did they persevere until the bitter end, by which time it was obvious they’d lost? You have to go back to the twelve years of the Nazi dictatorship for the answer. What I wanted to do was present the last twelve days in such a way as to highlight the tragic significance of the previous twelve years. I never intended the film to be commercial, and above all I must give credit for the film’s success to Joachim Fest’s great book, which brilliantly pinpointed the link between the duration of the regime and its final days. Bruno Ganz also deserves praise. If he hadn’t accepted the leading role, I probably wouldn’t have been able to make the film. Ganz is the only actor of his generation capable of a such a performance.
The Downfall is a very bleak film. Didn’t you ever consider introducing some more positive characters?
In many scenarios, the basic clash is usually between a white knight and a black knight; at the end, after much fighting and suffering, the good white knight defeats the bad black knight. Under the Third Reich, none of these elements existed, nor did jousts between knights clad in armour of different colours, let alone the victory of the lightest-coloured. In this story, dark tones predominate : the black of death, and, at a pinch, the odd shade of grey.