Bruno Ganz did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Adolf Hitler in Downfall.
The last time I reviewed Bruno Ganz was for his heart warming portrayal of an angel in Wings of Desire well Ganz is portraying a less positive figure this time in fact he playing one of the most monstrous men of history in Adolf Hitler. Hitler is a difficult role in that he is so often parodied that it is easy to be just a laughable caricature even if the intent is to be a serious portrayal. His mannerisms are just so well known and so often parodied that it is particularly easy to remind one of those parodies. Ganz from his first scene though shows that this is not going to be any typical portrayal of Adolf Hitler. The film opens with the arrival of some women to Hitler's compound in order for Hitler to find a new secretary. When he first arrives you almost expect a monster to emerge from the chambers, knowing exactly who Hitler, is, but that's not who comes out. No rather Ganz walks out as a man with some very poor posture, and probably some physical ailment that would eventually Parkinson's disease as well evidenced by the very natural shake Ganz gives to Hitler's forefingers on one hand in later scenes.
Ganz's physical manner as Hitler, is utterly convincing, and he makes us believe him as Hitler in at least the base sense, but that does not stop there with his introduction as he greets the candidates including his future secretary Traudl Junge (Alexandra Lara). Ganz does not portray him as the screaming lunatic we know, but actually as a fairly gentle older man as he greets each of the secretaries while asking them where they are from. After hearing that Traudl is from Munich Hitler invites her into his office to see how she types. Well dictating she suddenly stops leaving Hitler to tell her to do it again. Ganz does not yell, he does not sneer, not he gives the warmest of gestures like a loving father would ask her daughter just to simple try something again. It is a chilling scene because there is technically nothing chilling about it. Ganz portrays one of histories greatest monster's with such a genuine kindness in this scene that is actually disturbing. Ganz does not show this to be a psychopath hiding his true nature, or anything like that, no. Ganz shows that simply in certain company, just a normal technically unimportant situation, that Hitler could be a nice guy.
This is not some sort of false portrayal of Hitler, Hitler was an evil man, and the film does show him as such. The film, and Ganz simply never make it as simple as Hitler being a man without absolutely any humanity. We meet the Hitler were more use to soon enough when the film suddenly jumps in time near the end of the way as Hitler along with his personal staff have moved to his personal in Berlin as the Soviet army slowly begins to close in. Ganz is effective in just a single scene switch that he know shows that Hitler is a much more spent man both physically and mentally as the defeats have piled up over the few years. One of the earliest scenes is when Hitler is being told that Berlin is being bombed and all Hitler's reaction is that the bomb is merely convenient way to rebuild Berlin in his new vision. Ganz's madness that he exhibits in the role is a most unique sort in the role as Hitler is not just any mad man, he is a mad man who is a ruler of a country. Even when he is stating something so absurd, and horrible as this Ganz carries himself with a certain presence, and command. There is not hesitation, or even intensity in Ganz's voice, rather Ganz shows Hitler not as mad so to speak, but as a man with no barriers on his vision.
Ganz's performance is particularly interesting because even though he is portraying someone who almost seems to start rotting from the inside out as the it proceeds, there is something so magnetic about his performance as Hitler. This is absolutely needed for a portrayal of Hitler, because although he is obviously despicable, much of Hitler's power did come from his ability to persuade the populace of Germany to his vision. Ganz though does have a command in his performance and he conveys the needed power of personality in the man to be convincing that Hitler could have made it to the level of power that he achieved. It's there, and even though Ganz does disappear often during the film you never forgot about his existence not even after he's permanently gone. Ganz is able to make Hitler larger than life through his performance still, even though this film is all about technically revealing Hitler to be actually just a very small man in all reality, Ganz is able to strike the right balance giving a convincing illusion while revealing the truth.
As they are obviously losing Hitler becomes very much delusion about the whole affair thinking that the only reason they are not winning is because his men are not trying hard enough or they are simply are not following his orders. Ganz is very effective as he plays Hitler's reactions to every set back as though Hitler purposefully devolves to his persona as the dictator. Ganz is terrific in these scenes as he frankly goes full on Hitler in his vicious outbursts against every one and everything. Ganz gives them the right heated intensity as in the same way Hitler's speeches were, as he shows the most brutal side of Hitler in exact detail. Ganz is great as he shows the prejudices in Hitler quite cleverly as his performance becomes most violent whenever Hitler goes on about the background on one of his subordinates who are either failing to follow his orders, or simply failing to do the impossible. It is not just their current action he decries but as well whatever their lives are and in this hatred Ganz's rather artfully suggests exactly where the most extreme form of hatred comes from.
The progression of Hitler's story in the film is actually him is actually slowly losing his delusion that he will still win the war. Ganz is incredibly good at portraying a transition that is painfully naturally in its course. Throughout the film Ganz slowly reveals that the whole dictator side of the man is something that he just can't keep up as one set back after another forces him to face reality rather than his imagination of what should be happening. Ganz is surprisingly powerful, even though he is portraying Hitler, by revealing the man behind the vile creature. Ganz is exceptional in the scenes where some of his advisers admit to having lying to him, and there's no leader there just a small sad man who is quietly realizing exactly what he has sewn with his life. Ganz handles wonderfully well as Hitler does everything he can to keep his delusion, but you see the emotion slow reveal itself past his attempted manner of shielding it. One particularly strong moment is when he watches the Goebbels family sing for him (who are the only ones more delusion than Hitler) and Ganz portrays perfectly the feigning happiness of a doomed man.
The role of Hitler, as I said before, is a great challenge not to be a caricature, which Ganz avoid completely with his performance. The thing is though Ganz does not simply give us the Hitler you would know from watching the archival footage of the man either though. He goes about turning Hitler into a three dimensional individual. It is not that he makes Hitler sympathetic, that would be wholly impossible, and frankly a bit wrong to do. No, what Ganz achieves is something quite special in the role, since he never once holds back in any scene showing the evil in Hitler. We see that and we know what he is with Ganz's performance, what Ganz does so well though is that obviously with twenty four hours in a day it is unlikely that someone would be that way every second of the day. Ganz makes Hitler the genocidal murderer of millions in his fervent portrayal of the man's horrendous visions, but Ganz gives us a portrait of a man that is honest sadness of a man mistreated by his father, and of a husband genuinely capable of love. It is a fascinating and disturbing portrayal of the existence of humanity in one that was truly inhumane.