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The International Reception of Downfall (Der Untergang, 2004)

Frey, M. ORCID: 0000-0002-3388-0353 (2022). The International Reception of Downfall (Der Untergang, 2004). Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 43(2), pp. 438-459. doi: 10.1080/01439685.2022.2116862


Nearly twenty years after its premiere, Downfall still constitutes, among German theatrical features, the most significant media event since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The highest-profile sort of German (co-)production with a relatively big budget of approximately €14 million, well-known source material, a tie-in to sordid national history, a saturation exhibition strategy in Germany and (within five months of its September 2004 premiere) theatrical release in over 40 countries worldwide, Downfall sought – and received – wide press and public attention like almost no other German film before it. This article uses discourse analysis to survey and anatomise the international journalistic reception of Downfall, focusing on four of the five major territories for international film (USA, UK, Germany, France). Although there are some national peculiarities to the reception, in general the article argues that the critical reception can be distilled into three main, and overlapping, themes/debates: the perceived (in)authenticity of the representation of history; the aesthetic and moral implications of representing Adolf Hitler, in particular questions of sympathy; and the reception as a subject in itself, often coupled with perceptions of novelty vis-à-vis German film history. Even if the variety of topics and diversity of opinions regarding the film remain modest, Downfall’s international reception supplies powerful and peculiar reminders about how commercially aspirational films representing contentious or sensitive historical events were received in the early twenty-first century. In particular, and first of all, press reactions to Downfall reveal how lived experience and identity – whether a status as a professional filmmaker, specialist historian, established critic or simply a member of a certain generation or national community – became proxies for taste and cultural authority in the early twenty-first century.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: 2022 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis GroupThis is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License (, whichpermits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work isproperly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way.Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television,2022
Publisher Keywords: Downfall, reception studies, film criticism, German cinema, international cinema
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General)
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN1993 Motion Pictures
Departments: School of Communication & Creativity > Media, Culture & Creative Industries
SWORD Depositor:
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