Director Vincent Perez’s latest film brings Hans Fallada’s novel Alone in Berlin to the screen.
Written in 1947, Fallada’s book was inspired by the admirable and brave actions of a working class couple, Otto and Elise Hampel. They actively opposed the Nazi regime between 1940 and 1943.
The film follows protagonists Otto and Anna Quangel whose only son dies during the invasion of France in 1940.
After that the couple, played commendably by Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson, commit individual acts of resistance.
They write postcards encouraging people to defy the Nazi regime and distribute them throughout office blocks in Berlin.
Alone in Berlin lingers over the small details of everyday life.
At times this is very effective, such as the sensory use of touch, the gripping of a bannister or the stroking of a face.
It’s this attention to the details of the mundane and ordinary that contrasts with the inhumanity of Nazi rule. But this can sometimes be at the expense of the pace and suspense.
The film is somewhat restricted because it’s limited to a handful of characters, most of whom aren’t developed in the way that they are in the book.
And yet, despite this closeness, the film does not gather any speed or build tension in the way that one might hope.
Nevertheless, the opening scene provides a strong emotional charge on the horror and loneliness of war. This makes an implicit reference to the title of the book, and even more so to its original name Every Man Dies Alone.
With its focus on the lives of two working class middle-aged Berliners, the film also gives a more unusual perspective than most films set in wartime Germany.
The film resonates with Fallada’s sense of optimism that somehow small, individual acts can bring about change.
The ending of the film appears somewhat contrived for the audience’s benefit, as it seeks to reassure us that the Quangels’ mission was not futile.
Despite this it raises important points that are relevant today.
Otto’s postcards become increasingly political throughout the film, focusing on the freedom of the press and the importance of challenging dominant power structures.
This resonates with the rise of right wing populism and the advent of “fake news”.
The actions of the Quangels, although limited in their scope, have an important message.
It is acts of resistance, however small, that are significant, particularly in disenfranchised times.
As Otto says in the film, all small acts of defiance contribute to “the sand in the machine”.
Directed by Vincent Perez. On general release now
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