Alone in Berlin: Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson offer a timely blueprint for dissent
Solid performances help save Vincent Pérez’s anti-Nazi war drama from its low-budget stodginess
Refuse, resist: Brendan Gleeson and Emma Thompson in Alone in Berlin
Film Title: Alone in Berlin
Director: Vincent Perez
Starring: Emma Thompson, Brendan Gleeson, Daniel Brühl
Running Time: 103 min
Published in 1947, Hans Fallada’s Every Man Dies Alone was inspired by the real life heroism of Otto and Elise Hampel, a German couple who disseminated anti-Nazi literature during the second World War, evading capture for two years.
The Hampels’ dissent was inspired by the death of her brother on the frontlines in France. Fallada’s account invents a dead son for factory foreman Otto Quangel (Brendan Gleeson) and his wife Anna (Emma Thompson). The Quangels are already suspicious of Nazi ideology – he has refused to join the party, she is a lone voice of reason in the Nazi Women’s League – before the death of their son Hans during the Battle of France fires their collective distaste.
As Vincent Pérez’ historical drama opens, its 1940 and the elderly Jewish lady who lives in the couple’s building is facing increasing persecution, another reason to inspire the husband and wife to take action. The grieving Otto soon starts writing postcards in protest (“Mothers! Hitler will kill your son, too!”) and stealthily leaving them all over Berlin. His wife, aginst his warnings (“They hang women, too”) insists on playing a part.
Police inspector Escherich (Daniel Brühl) is soon on the case, searching out “Hobgoblin” as he calls the author of the subversive messages. A dedicated cop, rather than a Nazi, Escherich is both visibly frustrated by and admiring of his prey.
Despite a terrific triumvirate of performances from Gleeson, Thompson, and Brühl, and soft lensing from cinematographer Christophe Beaucarne, Alone in Berlin is hampered by stodgy pacing, budgetary constraints, and drab interiors.
Against this, the film offers a fascinating and timely blueprint for political dissent, a methodology that connects with pamphleteering, graffiti, and memes.