The mission is the message as Steve Taylor-Bryant watched Alone in Berlin...
When it comes to films set in the Second World War often they are filled with the Western heroes, the British spirit, the American war machine, or the plucky French resistance fighters. They are full of action or the intrigue of espionage. When on rare occasions they are made from a German perspective they become a mix of Far right propaganda or a nation destroyed. Rarely do you find a simple, elegant story told like the tale of Anna and Otto Quangel. With facts taken from a true story and a screenplay based on Hans Fallada’s wonderful novel, Alone in Berlin is a much needed shot in the arm for great storytelling in a genre that seems to demand bullets over brains.
The plot is a very simple one. The Quangels, Otto (Brendan Gleeson) a machine mechanic in a coffin producing factory, and his wife Anna (Emma Thompson), who helps the Nazi Women’s League with making sure all wives are pulling their weight in the war effort, receive a telegram that informs them of the death of their son, killed in action. Distraught and slowly coming to terms with the idea that maybe Hitler and the Third Reich aren’t all they promised the German people they would be, Otto resists in the most peaceful way he knows, he writes. He writes postcards with anti Hitler messages, he writes that the German war machine is lying to its people, that they killed his son and they’ll kill your child and, as he writes more postcards, he uses the term Free Press. Secretly leaving the cards in office building stairways and outside peoples doors he hopes that more of his Berlin compatriots will begin to think like he does. A lot of the anti war cards get handed in to the authorities by an indoctrinated populace bringing the ‘criminal’ act of writing to the attention of Inspector Escherich (Daniel Bruhle) who, under great pressure from the SS, is tasked with finding the traitor. Eventually Escherich gets his couple, after a bungled quick arrest of the postmistress’ ex husband which leads to a mercy killing at Escherich’s hand. Sentencing is death to both by guillotine and a now emotionally involved Escherich, who couldn’t save Anna from her fate despite a confession by Otto, takes his own life.
The remarkable thing about Alone in Berlin is the lack of dialogue in many scenes. To pull off performances that involve physical tics, facial expressions, and perhaps body language over spoken language, you have to have a cast of top drawer performers and Alone in Berlin has that in abundance. Thompson is great, her accent convincing and physical acting, especially in the scenes where she is distraught, is high class and a lesson to any actor in the ‘less is more’ art of portraying emotion. Daniel Bruhle doesn’t do bad acting and as Escherich he is again showing himself to have the range of abilities needed to be a top star for many years, although his SS boss Officer Prall (Mikael Persbrandt) is perhaps slightly too generic Nazi bad guy but that is a slight criticism of an otherwise stunning ensemble. An ensemble led from the front by Gleeson in as convincing a role as I’ve ever seen him which, considering his back catalogue, is high praise indeed.
Alone in Berlin is not a film for everyone. Shots when they are fired are not a CGI looking action scene, they are measured, they are convincing, they add a layer of horror to an already horrific time. It’s not dialogue heavy, to work out what’s going on and how all the characters interact and feel you actually have to watch. But it is a fantastic story of rebellion told incredibly well with a cast to die for in a setting that is beautifully shot. Bravo.
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Image - IMDb