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by By Paul Ormonde

Has mass-evil ever been portrayed on film so convincingly?

Sadly, this German film on Hitler's last days may not blow the box office apart. I saw it with eight members of a film group and with about a dozen other people in the theatre. Actor Bruno Ganz's portrayal of Hitler goes far towards explaining this obsessive ideologue's malignant hold on a nation at the heart of what we thought was Christian civilisation.

Our group - all over 50 and moderately literate about the Nazi era - agreed it was the most compelling film they had seen in years - confronting, horrifying yet commanding even the faintest hearts to stay because it was steeped in discomforting truth, and even purely as film, brilliantly presented.

The focus of Hitler's war against the world, apart from recovery of territory and national honor, was the 'Jewish poison' and the Bolsheviks. Each such motive touched Protestant and Catholic alike in a country where every soldier had on his belt buckle the prayer Gott mit uns (God with us).

To a post-war Christian, as the film unfolded, the question kept arising: how could officers and secretaries ensconsced in the Berlin bunker with Hitler - even when all seemed lost with Russian artillery shaking the ground above them - still be in idolatrous reverence for 'mein Fuhrer'.

Where was Christian faith in the death throes of the Third Reich? Hitler himself was born Catholic as were two of his closest henchmen, Josef Goebbels (his propaganda minister) and Heinrich Himmler (secret police chief and an architect of the "final solution" for the Jews). Whatever impact Catholicism may have had on their early lives had long been displaced by the nationalistic fundamentalism offered by this self-appointed demi-god. The film reminds us that fundamentalism then and now is the refuge of people who are fightened, humiliated and in need of simple answers.

The master race delusion was there to the end. Just before their mutual suicide, Hitler and Eva Braun were married in the bunker before a celebrant whose first question to each was: 'Are you Aryan?' With that formally established, the ceremony could proceed in conformity with Nazi law.

As we now know, the churches offered little resistance to Hitler. There were individual heroic stands taken by bishops, but never to the point of determined opposition.

Here is a masterly presentation of a man, obsessed with his own vision for "Deutschland Uber Alles," who was able to impose this vision on most of his 60 million countrymen. His vision cost the world more than 50 million lives.

Downfall is a portrait of evil of rare quality - a German production with an all-German cast. Bruno Ganz's Hitler, played with restrained strength, has the ring of truth, as does the whole film.

Now playing in selected cinemas.

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