Berlinale: Alone in Berlin

Alone in Berlin
Directed by Vincent Pérez
Starring Emma Thompson, Brendan Gleeson and Daniel Brühl
Based on the novel Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada
Watch on iTunes (US)

by Joanna Orland

The heart of Alone in Berlin lies in the performances of the film’s two lead actors – Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson.  The film tells the true story of grieve-stricken German couple Anna and Otto Quangel as they mourn the loss of their son who dies on the battlefields of World War II.  To deal with their grief and act against the Nazi regime, the Quangels perform tiny acts of rebellion by leaving notes of “Free Press” which speak against Hitler and his ideals.  These anonymous acts of rebellion are being investigated by Detective Escherich played by Daniel Brühl.

The acts of rebellion which cause the couple some respite from their grief are portrayed with restraint in this big screen adaptation of Hans Fallada’s novel of the same name.  The creation and distribution of these letters almost come across as mischievous rather than a crime worthy of capital punishment, which in some ways works against the film’s powerful drama, but also in favour of it as these are crimes against the Nazis which are indeed punishable by death.  As the Quangels perform their rebellions, it is again the relationship between Anna and Otto that has the audience’s attention.  Their demonstrative grief is subtle, their acts of rebellion underplayed, but their love for one another is gripping.  The casting of these roles is perfect as both Thompson and Gleeson are magnificent, and their chemistry enigmatic.  Even in the latter part of the film when the Quangels are reunited in the courtroom, the audience can sense how they are drawn to each other – by merely a look in Emma Thompson’s eyes.

Daniel Brühl’s detective nicely rounds out this cast, and his role a crucial one in depicting how people were easily drawn into acting against their beliefs in support of the Nazi regime.  While slowly introduced into this story, by the end, Escherich’s role is poignant, although his final scenes feel muted rather than screaming the bold statement that they could.

Alone in Berlin could have been more passionately made by director Vincent Pérez, but luckily for him and the audience that Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson emanate passion in every scene in which they feature.


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