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Culture

Hitler Film Gets Critical Approval in Israel

Oscar-nominated German film "Der Untergang -- The Downfall" has been given a surprising critical approval in Israel by young, old and Holocaust survivors alike, for its mesmerizing depiction of the last days of Hitler.

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Audiences have mixed feelings but appreciate The Downfall's efforts

German director Oliver Hirschbiegel's film "Der Untergang -- The Downfall" about the last days of Adolf Hitler, the most deeply controversial of a wave of films made in Germany to mark the 60th anniversary of the defeat of the Nazi regime, has been loved and loathed alike by audiences around the world for portraying evil incarnate with a human face.

At the Israeli premiere, Holocaust survivors Male, 73, originally from a Romanian district incorporated into Ukraine, and her husband 84-year-old Shlom, born in Poland, were moved to tears rather than revulsion by the film.

Relatives of Jews killed face tough viewing

"We had to come," said Male as she remembered how her and Shlom's entire family were killed in the Nazi genocide of six million Jews. She may have no qualms about Germany's catastrophic capitulation at the end of World War II, but neither she nor her husband was appalled by efforts to humanize evil.

"The Germans deserved what happened to them," Male said.

Bruno Ganz (Adolf Hitler)

Bruno Ganz as Hitler

Swiss actor Bruno Ganz's brilliant warts-and-all portrayal shows Hitler in previously unimaginable scenes: charming his secretaries, sharing a passionate kiss with Eva Braun, frothing at the mouth over the latest reports of the encroaching Red Army, spilling sauce at dinner down his steel-gray uniform.

"The film doesn't show Hitler in such a human light," Male said. "The environment around him is humanized by children, the dog and women, but not Hitler himself. He was completely indifferent to his people suffering the Allied bombings."

The wider tragedy accepted by some viewers

Raviv, a 30-year-old social worker, had the same reaction.

"What happened to them was deserved, but what a tragedy," he said. Although he was born in Israel, his family comes from Austria -- annexed to Hitler's Third Reich in 1938 -- and the personal resonance also hit home.

"One of my grannies was the only one in the family to survive," he added. "Although I certainly always felt a victim, this film also made me see the Germans as victims. I felt that too, when I went to Berlin."

Press divided on human portrayal

Oliver Hirschbiegel, der Regisseur des Films Der Untergang

In the press, as anywhere else, there are those who laud its merits and those deeply critical of director Oliver Hirschbiegel's (photo) portrayal of the Nazi Führer.

"I'm not recommending this film to Holocaust survivors, but it should be compulsory for everyone else," wrote Avner Hopstein in Yediot Aharonot tabloid. "It teaches us that even

sensitive human beings can become execrable killers."

In the same newspaper, Yehuda Steve complained about the film's technical flaws that left Hitler less of a human being and "more of a museum wax work."

Public response led to realse of film in Israel

A Tel Aviv cinema, Lev, was initially reluctant to show the film, aware that the intense debate it sparked in Europe may prove just too sensitive in Israel.

To decide, it screened a private viewing to a test audience, 91 percent of which agreed the film should be aired nationwide.

"This was a very specific, short and transient time in history, but the film does not glorify Hitler as some people said," said Brazilian Jewish emigre Noah Milstein, 66. "He was a man, psychotic, but not an animal."

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