Review: Alone in Berlin (2016)

Alone in Berlin (2016)

Directed by: Vincent Perez | 103 minutes | drama | Actors: Emma Thompson, Daniel Brühl, Brendan Gleeson, Mikael Persbrandt, Louis Hofmann, Katharina Schüttler, Godehard Giese, Ernst Stötzner, Rafael Gareisen, Jacob Matschenz, Lars Rudolph, Uwe Preuss, Marko Dyrlich, Joshio Marlon

The film ‘Alone in Berlin’ (2016) is an adaptation of the book ‘Jeder stirbt für sich allein’ by Hans Fallada. The book, published two years after the war, became a classic in German literature and has been filmed several times. In 2009 it also appeared in the English language area where it became a bestseller. This was a blessing for director Vincent Perez who, riding on this success, was allowed to film the story in English. It is doubtful whether we as viewers should be happy with actors who speak English with a German accent in this day and age.

In ‘Alone in Berlin’, the couple Otto and Anna Quangel resist the Nazi terror by placing cards with incendiary texts in the stairwells of public buildings. Most of these tickets are immediately handed over to the police who, with the hot breath of the SS at their neck, launch a manhunt.

It is admirable how the Berlin of the early years of the war has been brought to life by the many scenes that take place in the streets (most of the film was shot in the town of Görlitz, which survived the war relatively unscathed). The beautiful decoration, however, does not hide the fact that ‘Alone in Berlin’ is a somewhat straightforward narrative that only manages to captivate itself moderately. The story focuses too much on the police investigation and the inevitable denouement.

Undoubtedly, the makers intended to use the exciting plot as a stepping stone to hang smaller stories, about Otto and Anna and the other residents of Jablonskistraße 55, and thus give a glimpse into the lives of ordinary Germans between 1940 and 1943. Presumably the elaborations of this were lost in the editing room to keep up the momentum, because except Otto, Anna and Kriminalkommissar Escherich, the other characters look more like extras in their own story. Strangely enough, those supporting roles are the most convincing; Brendan Gleeson (Otto) and Emma Thompson (Anna) just don’t get their roles right, it’s as if they’ve only been given one directing cue from Perez and cling desperately to it for an hour and a half.

On top of that, as mentioned, everyone speaks English with a German accent — completely ridiculously natural and unnecessary for this film’s target audience. Had Gleeson and Thompson memorized a few lines of German and spent an extra half hour on the film, ‘Alone in Berlin’ would have been a more interesting title in the lineup of films that tell the story of World War II from the perspective of the loser.

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