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Culture

German Film Aims to Gatecrash Oscar Party

Hollywood hosts the 77th Academy Awards ceremony on Sunday night. The star-studded affair will bring out the cream of Tinseltown ... and a few Germans with hopes of a prize and a passion for partying "like devils."

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Oliver Hirschbiegel brings his Hitler film to the Oscars this weekend

The global movie industry will turn its star-struck eyes towards Hollywood once more on Sunday for Oscar night. The 77th Academy Awards ceremony is usually quite an insular affair with back-slaps all round for the local talent and those associated with Tinseltown productions. But this year, the Germans have a reason to be optimistic, with "Der Untergang" up for one of the coveted gongs.

If "Der Untergang," or "The Downfall" to give it its English-language release title, gatecrashes the party, it won't be the first time for a German film. In fact, German films have been gaining momentum and respect in Hollywood for many years now and Caroline Link's "Nowhere in Africa" snatched the Best Foreign Language Film statuette as recently as 2003.

History favors films about Nazis

Nirgendwo in Afrika Filmplakat

Nowhere in Africa

The odds seem to be in the favor of director Oliver Hirschbiegel's depiction of the last days of Adolf Hitler. Historically, German films with themes realted to the Nazis have been very successful on Oscar night. Link's story of German emigrants in Africa during World War II followed the success in 1980 of Volker Schlöndorff's wartime masterpiece "Die Blechtrommel."

Regardless of the good omens, Hirschbiegel is just happy to be nominated. "For a filmmaker it is the biggest thing just to be there, this is like Olympic gold. Whether we win an Oscar or not -- we will celebrate like devils," said the German director.

Mixed responses from Stateside critics

In the meantime, under its English-language title, the German film has opened in the United States. Critics have reacted with mixed feelings towards the film. The influential Hollywood Reporter -- essential reading for many of the Academy members -- praised the German production highly: "One of the best war films of all time. A film which can bring new standards in the transference of history onto celluloid."

Amerikanisches Plakat von The Downfall, Der Untergang

The Downfall (Der Untergang)

However, the respected film reviewer A.O. Scott of the New York Times said the film contained "a reassuring message for the home audience that the Germans were, above all, victims of Nazism." He criticized the manner in which the film presented some figures linked with Hitler's regime and the way it attempted to extract sympathy from the audience.

Others have said that the film raises questions for all humanity, showing Hitler and his cronies as people capable of horrific acts and not the demons of the Nazi myth. This same point has been used to deride the film, with some expressing concerns that humanizing the characters reduces their status as the most heinous criminals of the 20th century.

Growing global audience and profits

The debate around the film has done little to distract audiences from seeing it. "The Downfall" has so far earned $40 million worldwide. However, $30 million of that has been earned in Germany where 4.6 million viewers have flocked to see it. The film has also been on general release in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland, Austria and Switzerland, Hungary, Finland and Spain.

While German movie industry voices have been calling producer Bernd Eichinger "the most important man in German film," he and his colleague Hirschbiegel will have to wait until Sunday night to see if they have a tangible accolade to go with all the praise.

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