Ah, Springtime in Berlin… 1945 Berlin… when Hitler ate the barrel of his own gun and no German woman was safe from the rapists of the Russian Army.
Downfall puts you inside the bunker with Adolf Hiter. A Woman in Berlin makes you feel the crushingly awful choices for the citizens he left behind.
These two films have absolutely nothing in common with Inglourious Basterds and its fast re-write on World War II history except the setting. They’re meant to be appalling windows into a couple of events that while true, very little is known about. Both are German films exploring the gory days of April 1945 when the Russians ripped apart Berlin. Germans had brought hell to the world and sympathy for them was in short supply from their victims.
By exploring the death of Hitler — the Fuhrer — and the personal choices of a young German woman trying to stay alive, we’ve got a twisted Upstairs/Downstairs Smackdown…
A Woman in Berlin is a story nobody in Germany or Russia wanted to talk about in the fifty years since the book it’s based on was published — namely that the invading Soviet soldiers raped up to 100,000 German women turning Berlin into “one big whorehouse” — seen through the eyes of a single woman.
The Defending Champion
During the days when the Soviets rolled their tanks toward the Reichstag and women measured days in rapes endured, the man who caused it all, Adolf Hitler went to ground in his bunker, lost his mind, married his woman Eva Braun and, finally, only hours before his ultimate capture, killed himself, taking his new bride with him to his grave.
These are two powerful cinematic triumphs that most people will never see because the subject matter is so tough to endure. Still, both films so full of death are brought to life by spectacular performances — Bruno Ganz as Hitler in Downfall and Nina Hoss in A Woman in Berlin as the German journalist who decides to bed a Soviet commander by design in order to have his protection from his own troops. The latest is chilling in its insight into how much we might sacrifice to live when the rules are gone and the earlier film blows your mind by letting you see that evil is not always larger-than-life.
For starters, both of these films are much better, more real and powerful, than last year’s ballyhooed The Reader and if you’re a World War II cinema buff they are both must-views. In our head-to-head competition though there is just no way you should miss Downfall because it lets you see evil insanity in a way you’ve never seen it before, in a man whose trembling hands brought the world to its knees.