Review: Alone In Berlin

Alone In Berlin, a dour drama about a German couple who lose their son to the war in 1940, is a film with good intentions. Unfortunately it plays like a Europudding of the stodgiest kind.

Otto and Anna Quangel (Brendan Gleeson and Emma Thompson) are grief stricken and enraged at the death of their soldier son, and subsequently plan their own campaign against the Nazis. This takes the form of planting postcards around Berlin denouncing the regime.  

Despite the emotive premise, the story itself is quite slight. There’s really only one place it can go. The drama hinges on two questions – will they get caught and what will happen to them if and when they do? The answer in both cases seems pretty obvious from the start.

The English language film is a remake of a 1975 German film Everyone Dies Alone, adapted from a Hans Fallada novel posthumously published in 1947. The novel was loosely based on a real-life couple. Of course, films in English can be based on characters in any country, but a film automatically loses a bit of authenticity when it’s performed by a group of pan-European actors affecting German accented English with varying results.

The real problem though is the funereal tone of the film. There’s not a lot of light and shade to the characters or their predicament. Gleeson and Thompson are both very fine actors, but they are hemmed in by the monotone direction.

The most interesting character is Kommissar Escherich (Daniel Brühl – who has the advantage of being a native German speaker) . Escherich has been put in charge of flushing out the mysterious postcard distributor, but he steadily becomes more disillusioned with the Nazi party.

It’s hard to grasp the scale of Otto and Anna’s actions. In a time where any form of free speech was non-existent, let alone social media, the act of dropping a solitary hand written postcard in a public place every few days seems like such a desperate, futile  action.

Alone In Berlin was directed by French actor Vincent Perez, best known for his performances in such films as Cyrano de Bergerac and Le Reine Margot. He doesn’t put much of a personal stamp on the film visually, and does little in the way of presenting a compelling story.    

English language remakes seldom stand up well against their original source, and unfortunately Alone In Berlin is no exception.


Alone in Berlin is currently in limited release

Richard Leathem @dickiegee