Alone in Berlin

“Hans Quangel” a young German infantry soldier runs terrified through the woods in France, he is shot and killed in action.

“Otto” (Brendan Gleeson) and his wife “Anna” Emma Thompson receive the news in Berlin, via post. Their only child killed in pursuit of a war they do not believe in, they do not take it well.

The couple are cold with each other, they appear to have lost any real connection as husband and wife. “Otto” goes to work as usual, ironically making coffins for the war effort, leaving his wife distraught and with no comfort.

Over time, Otto’s disgust with Hitler’s aims and lies prompts him to start writing postcards, denouncing the regime in harsh terms. He distributes the cards for anyone to find in random places. Anna is aware of this dangerous pursuit and over time begins to help.

To say this is foolish or brave would be an understatement. Nazi sympathizers are everywhere, people will be turned into the authorities for any disloyalty. Rather someone else be killed or tortured then yourself, fear is everywhere.

The portrayal of a Berlin during the height of Nazi power is very effective, the iron grip and total fear imposed on the populace is palpable. A police Inspector “Escherich” Daniel Brühl is assigned the case to find the culprit, with most cards handed in by terrified Berliners, the pressure to achieve a result increases.

Of course the real power is held by the SS and there is a notable scene where even the Inspector is not safe from their reach and influence.

Thompson and Gleeson are as you would expect, excellent in their roles. There are quiet performances from other doomed characters and Bruhl also makes the most of his character’s arc.

However, whilst any viewer choosing the film would hardly expect a comedy, this is depressing stuff indeed. The ending is never really in any doubt and understandably there are few rays of sunshine in the story.

What really causes the film to falter is the lack of warmth between the central characters, until at least it is too late. This provides no life raft for the audience to hold on to and makes for a difficult and lengthy watch, despite the relatively short running time.

The story also takes a turn where you feel the protagonist almost want/need to be caught, which seems an exercise in self flagellation, given everything that has gone before and risks undertaken.

Based on a true story, the film highlights the considerable bravery of this couple standing up for what they believed was right, in the face of insurmountable odds.

Summary

Well acted with excellent locations and period setting, within a presumably tight budget.

Worthy and recounting an incredibly brave story but does not make for an easy watch, due mainly to characters that are hard to relate to, even given the circumstances.