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Bruno Ganz at the San Sebastián International Film Festival, Spain, September 2010.

No downfall for Bruno Ganz

Every year the European Film Academy honours a practitioner of the “seventh art” for the entirety of his or her past work. This year the lifetime achievement award goes to Swiss actor Bruno Ganz.

Published on 8 October 2010 at 13:43
Bruno Ganz at the San Sebastián International Film Festival, Spain, September 2010.

How many times have you heard the name Bruno Ganz? What about Michael Haneke? Fatih Akin? The names probably ring a bell, you’ve heard them somewhere, it’s just that you can’t remember where and in what context? Other names might sound familiar, like Al Pacino, Martin Scorsese or Woody Allen. Although both are lists of brilliant filmmakers and actors, there’s an ocean between them: the Atlantic.

Although we happen to be situated on the European continent, we’d probably feel more at ease in Hollywood, where we’d readily recognise King Kong, Rocky and the Great Dictator (though Charlie Chaplin was European, but who remembers that little detail!) and contemporaries of ours like Katherine Heigl, Angelina Jolie and Tom Cruise. So why should we go to Cinecittà, Pinewood or Babelsberg? We wouldn’t recognise anyone there.

Maybe not even Bruno Ganz. We might confuse the name with a German politician or Austrian businessman. In fact, Bruno Ganz is a Swiss actor, born in 1941, known for his roles in movies like Der Untergang (Downfall), Baader Meinhof Complex or The Reader. Ganz, acclaimed for his performances on stage as well as on the silver screen, was recently appointed president of the German Film Academy and received the European Film Academy award for European Contribution to World Cinema. He joins the ranks of past award-winners – people who make films d’auteur, not box-office blockbusters: Ken Loach, Carlos Saura, Jean-Luc Godard et al. Ganz will receive this year’s prize at the 23rd European Film Awards in Tallinn.

Over the course of his career, Bruno Ganz has been nominated 18 times for major awards (including European Film Academy and David di Donatello awards) and only lost out five times. Two years ago, in 2008, he played alongside Kate Winslet, David Kross and Ralph Fiennes in The Reader, a role in English. In 2007, he shot Youth Without Youth by Francis Ford Coppola in Romania. The film is based on a story by [the late Romanian historian of religion, fiction writer and philosopher] Mircea Eliade. And in 2004 he played Hitler, in the days preceding the Allied victory, in The Downfall.

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He received four awards for his performance (in German), and the film was Oscar-nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. Back in 2000, Ganz played a part in Italian in Silvio Soldini’s Pane e Tulipani (Bread and Tulips), which landed nine David di Donatello awards and nominations for three European Film Awards. In each of those pictures, Ganz succeeded in doing what precious few actors have achieved: putting on a believable, intense, genuine performance – in three different languages, which makes him a truly polyglot actor –, making fictional characters real and bringing to life a man who disappeared a long time ago.

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