Bruno Ganz, 1941–2019

The scene above made the Swiss actor Bruno Ganz immortal. After the premiere of the masterful Downfall in 2004, countless YouTube parodies were made of this scene, each one with new, creative subtitles. Hitler’s rage (in a foreign, incomprehensible language, as long as you didn’t speak German) served as a hilarious comment on whatever subject you could think of. Bruno Ganz died two days ago at the age of 77, but his performance as Hitler, the best on screen we ever saw, will live forever. The comedy comes out of the fact that the actor is so capable of generating fear.

Born in Zürich, Ganz came to the theater in the early 1960s where he became a force to be reckoned with in the German-speaking world, even co-founding an acting ensemble in Berlin in 1970. He had more success on stage at first, even if he did make sporadic film appearances in the 1960s and early ’70s. But then he started getting noticed, even internationally, for his screen performances. In 1977, he played opposite Dennis Hopper’s Tom Ripley in the Patricia Highsmith adaptation The American Friend by Wim Wenders.

He was also a memorable Jonathan Harker in Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979). The clip above shows Harker meeting the bloodsucker for the first time.

The most famous role Ganz did onscreen before Downfall was another collaboration with Wenders, Wings of Desire (1987). This was where he played an angel visiting West Berlin. The clip above shows a terrific scene between Ganz and Peter Falk. An art-house hit, the film wasn’t for everyone but has become a classic. Still, Downfall was the broad international success that brought him work in a wide variety of films, including a Liam Neeson thriller and a Kate Winslet Holocaust drama. In later years, he was fun as a healer in Sally Potter’s acerbic The Party (2017). 

Fans feared him as Hitler. Fans revered him as an angel (as recounted by Ganz in an interview with a Danish film journal, according to Variety). There were many sides to Bruno Ganz whenever we were fortunate to see him in a movie.

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