Berlin, Sept. 17 (Reuters): Germans struggled to digest a powerful new film about Adolf Hitler that opened in cinemas on Thursday amid a raging debate about whether the dictator can be portrayed as anything less than the world's greatest evil.
The Downfall drew mixed reviews from German film critics and ordinary cinema-goers, with many applauding its gory depiction of the final 12 days of the Nazi regime but others objecting to some scenes showing Hitler having a human side.
'It's a masterpiece,' wrote Bild, Germany's top-selling daily. 'It's the film of the year, a German film about the eternal ghost of German history. Hitler: human, monster, mass-murderer. Confused, raging, insane.'
Told from the point of view of Traudl Junge, one of Hitler's secretaries in his Berlin bunker, Der Untergang, as it is called in German, is also based on eyewitness accounts from a book of the same name by leading German historian Joachim Fest.
'I think it's good that a German filmmaker is confronting Hitler, but I don't like the way Adolf comes off like such a human being,' said Hans Joachim Drewell, 70, a Berlin pensioner. 'It was too much to take. They should have showed more of his evil side, his fanaticism, and not so much of this human side.'
Played superbly by Swiss actor Bruno Ganz, Hitler's hypnotising outbursts of rage at his generals' failure to stop the Soviet advance are mixed with scenes in which he is kind to his female staff, his fiancee Eva Braun and even his dog.
'We've seen Hitler before as a madman but twisting spaghetti around his fork or crying' wrote Berliner Morgenpost film critic Hanns-Georg Rodek. 'We've seen him as a clown before, but as a newlywed planting a kiss on the mouth of Eva Hitler'
At one of the first screenings in Germany at Potsdamer Platz, just a few hundred metres from the bunker where Hitler committed suicide, many Germans wept at scenes showing Joseph Goebbels' wife icily poisoning their six children.
'Some parts were really creepy,' said Marie-Louise Hellblau, 14, who saw the film with her classmates.'Hitler was totally brutal and evil. He only wanted everyone to die with him.'
The film, one of the first German productions to wade into the darkest chapter of their own history, has received mass media coverage, with Hitler's visage making it onto the cover of both major weekly newsmagazines, Der Spiegel and Stern.
It was showing on 400 screens in Germany, one of the biggest releases of the year.