I recently watched a couple of good movies, both about World War II. The first was Downfall: Hitler and the End of the Third Reich (2004). The story was told from the perspective of Traudl Junge, Hitler's secretary. Bruno Ganz turned in a powerful performance as Hitler. (By the way, Ganz is the same actor who, the year before, played the part of Johann von Staupitz, vicar general of the Augustinian order in Germany and Martin Luther's confessor, in the movie Luther. Ganz was just as convincing playing the pious and compassionate monk as he was playing the maniacal madman. Great talent).
Downfall chronicles the last twelve days of Hitler's life as he huddled in a bunker beneath Berlin, with the Russians advancing on the city. The entire film is in German, so one must endure two and half hours of reading English subtitles. But rather than finding this distracting, I found it to add immeasurably to the authenticity of the film. I felt like I was right there watching the events unfold as they were happening. Check out the trailer here or here.
The second film was The Boy in Striped Pajamas (2008). This was a very moving story about an eight year old German boy named Bruno, whose father is the commandant of a concentration camp. His curiosity leads him to disobey his parents by exploring the woods behind their new home near the camp. When he finds the camp, he meets a little Jewish boy named Shmuel behind the fence, and wearing what he thinks are "striped pajamas." The two boys form a friendship, and Bruno slowly, hesitatingly, begins to learn that his little friend is a prisoner because he's "an enemy" and a threat to the Reich. More difficult for Bruno to accept is that his father has something to do with Shmuel's imprisonment.
The one really odd thing that struck me throughout the film was the fact that all these Germans were played by British actors. It was amusing to hear them speaking English with a British accent while playing Germans. The same I suppose should be true if the parts were played by American actors. But of course, having my ear tuned to American English, that wouldn't have seemed odd at all; although it probably would to a British audience.
At any rate, the film was very powerful. I watched it with the entire family, and we had a very good conversation afterward. Even the next day at lunch, my eighteen year old son, who prefers movies with a lot of action (of which this had none), just out of the blue made the comment, "That movie last night was really very powerful emotionally."
Check out the trailer here.