Sunday, February 12, 2017

Film Review: Alone in Berlin

"Alone in Berlin"
*** 1/2 (out of ****)

Vincent Perez’s “Alone in Berlin” (2016), is a World War II themed drama centering on a working-class German couple (played by Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson) that finds out their only child has died in combat. Consumed with grief and anger they become part of the German Resistance, placing anonymous postcards, with anti-Hitler, anti-Nazi sentiments, throughout the city. In total, more than 280 postcards are written.

The film is based on the novel Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada published in 1947. It is considered to be one of the first anti-Nazi novels to be published after the war in Germany. It was made available in the United States, for the first time, in 2009. Even more astonishing is the novel was based on a true story and the actions of Otto and Elise Hampel. 

The novel has been adapted to the screen previously on a few occasions, once as a West German television movie in 1962 and again in 1970 as an East German television miniseries, among them.

Screened at the Berlin International Film Festival, where it was nominated for a Golden Bear (the festival’s top prize), “Alone in Berlin” begins as an emotional drama that slowly turns into a thriller with the Gestapo enraged and furiously conducting an investigation, which provides a nice role for Daniel Bruhl as Escherich, a police inspector, under pressure to deliver results and find the perpetrator.

Audiences are asked to draw a parallel, as is usually the case in these kind of movies, between the person being hunted and the hunter. Can Otto (Gleeson) influence Escherich and persuade him, by reading his postcards, to see what Hitler and the Nazi party really stand for?

What would have made “Alone in Berlin” a stronger movie would have been if Otto was a true Nazi sympathizer. A man who believed in what Hitler was doing and was proud of his son for fighting. Then, when he turns against it, it would have more dramatic effect. As it stands now Otto and his wife, Ann (Thompson), are like so many other people who see terrible things happen in the world and are silent, if for no other reason than tragedy has not struck them personally. It is only when it does that it opens their eyes.

It’s difficult however to find much else to fault with the movie. It is one of the best films released this year, thanks largely to Brendan Gleeson’s performance, as a solemn, calm and meticulous (trying to hide his handwriting, he spends up to an hour writing the postcard) man, who while driven by a purpose somehow seems apathetic about life and the consequences of his actions. This is countered by Emma Thompson’s performance, which is overwrought as she expresses her concern over the couple being caught and has moments where she lashes out demonstrating her grief. All of which emphasizes the separate ways the couple copes with their feelings, which will in turn bring them together again.

In only his third feature length film, Perez (who has spent most of his career as an actor), shows a sure hand as a director, avoiding much of the schmaltz another director may have brought out of the story, his weakness though is he needs to improve on creating suspense. 

At its core “Alone in Berlin” is a story that tells us all it takes is one person to stand up for what is right. One person can make a difference and change the minds of many. It is a nice message for the world we live in.