Alone in Berlin

 

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A mainstream movie with an historically based story worth the telling.

 
Alone in Berlin 

Daniel Brühl

 

Hans Fallada wrote the novel on which this film is based in 1946 but it was a fresh English translation in 2009 that brought it wider recognition. From the outset Fallada acknowledged that his two central characters, Otto and Anna Quangel played here by Brendan Gleeson and Emma Thompson, were derived from a real-life couple, Otto and Elise Hempel. Like them, Otto and Anna, whose story plays out between 1940 and 1943, are Berliners who took a stance against Hitler and the Nazis by circulating messages written on postcards denouncing the war and the regime.  It can be assumed that Fallada’s aim was to seek the deepest respect for their brave but exceedingly risky venture, one which showed that not all Germans were cowed by the Führer. The film's purpose all these years later is surely much the same and, although it commemorates the Hempels in its end credits, one also finds there a statement that the film is fictitious. Accept it, therefore, as a fiction drawing on a real-life model and recent accusations that Fallada distorted some of the facts become irrelevant to the film.

 

The story has been told on film before, but this treatment is very ably directed by Vincent Perez. What will be problematic for some audiences is that this German tale features English-speaking actors throughout (the fact that messages which they are seen to read are in German underlines the inauthenticity). Accept that and there are still questionable elements here, including  the overused music score by the ubiquitous Alexandre Desplat and plot developments that on occasion seem too contrived or otherwise lack conviction.

 

Nevertheless, the admirably handled preface (it features the death in action of the couple's soldier son, that being the event that triggers off the actions of Otto and Anna) draws us in. Furthermore, while the able Brendan Gleeson as Otto is given the greater emphasis, Emma Thompson’s Anna finds the actress deeply committed and giving one of her best performances. As a dramatic entertainment inviting admiration for Otto and Anna, Alone in Berlin despite its weaker points is largely effective. Nevertheless, it should be pointed out that the approach adopted is relatively superficial. As it happens, history offers a comparison, another famous anti-Nazi protestor of this same period whose written denunciations led to her death. She was Sophie Scholl and her story, also told on screen more than once, was the basis of Marc Rothemund’s 2005 film Sophie Scholl - The Final Days. That was a work carried out with a depth and impact that puts it in a different league from Alone in Berlin. But, on its own level, this film is not unrewarding, especially when it comes to Emma Thompson’s utterly dedicated performance.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Emma Thompson, Brendan Gleeson, Daniel Brühl, Mikael Persbrandt, Monique Chaumette, Joachim Bissmeier, Katrin Pollitt, Lars Rudolph, Uwe Preuss, Daniel Strässer, Rainer Egger, Louis Hofmann.

 

Dir Vincent Perez, Pro Stefan Arndt, Uwe Schott, Marco Pacchioni, Christian Grass, Paul Trijbits and James Schamus, Screenplay Achim von Borries and Vincent Perez with Bettine von Borries, from the novel by Hans Fallada, Ph Christophe Beaucarne, Pro Des Jean-Vincent Puzos, Ed François Gédigier, Music Alexandre Desplat, Costumes Nicole Fischnaller.

 

X Filme Creative Pool/Master Movies/FilmWave/Pathé/Buffalo Films/Alone in Berlin Ltd/WS Film/LipSync-Trafalgar Releasing.
103 mins. Germany/France/UK. 2016. Rel: 30 June 2017. Cert. 12A.