Bruno Ganz (1941-2019)

The Swiss character actor died last week at the age of 77. Many people may not be aware of him. I myself saw him in only one film late in his career. But he achieved YouTube immortality because his serious role in the 2004 German film Downfall, where he played Hitler in the last days in his bunker, became a meme, with English ‘subtitles’ of his words made up to reflect current events.

In this appreciation of the actor, film critic Peter Bradshaw writes that Ganz was surprised that he had become a comedic meme, especially over a much-praised dramatic role, but seemed to take it in good spirit.

It is the fate of actors sometimes to complete a lifetime of distinguished theatre and film work and then be remembered by a vast number of people chiefly for their role in some silly TV hit or lowbrow franchise. Something of the sort happened to the great Swiss actor Bruno Ganz who – to his own huge interest and amusement – became iconic to a younger generation for the endless viral YouTube memes based on his terrifying bunker rant as Hitler in the 2004 movie Downfall. The Fuhrer erupts with rage at Frank Lampard signing for Inter Milan, about the fact there is no camera in the iPod Touch, or about Oasis splitting. “It’s amazing, the creativity from these kids! How they come up with these ideas!” Ganz exclaimed in an interview.

Here is one clip about Hitler’s reaction as Bobby Jindal’s campaign for the Republican nomination in 2016 began to go off the rails.


  1. John Morales says

    I doubt that the typical person who indulged on that meme cared anything about the actor himself; the very joke it that it’s Hitler.

    (So, there’s the actor as a person, the actor as an actor, and who the actor portrays. It is the latter who is being YouTube immortalised, IMO)

    Haven’t seen the movie, myself.

  2. M Currie says

    I liked Ganz a lot. One of the first things I saw him in was “Bread and Tulips,” an Italian comedy, in which a middle aged woman is left behind by her family at a rest stop. Rather than go home, she sets out on an adventure, deciding it’s time to see Venice. She finds a room in the home of an eccentric, suicidal ex-Icelander, who speaks elegantly archaic Italian, having learned it in prison from reading Orlando Furioso, played by Ganz. Imagine perhaps an Ann Tyler story rewritten by Italo Calvino.

    A versatile actor.

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