Alone in Berlin

February 26, 2017

Review, Theatrical, This Week 2 Comments

A movie about the holocaust that lacks fire.

Alone in Berlin

Sophia Watson
Year: 2016
Rating: M
Director: Vincent Pérez

Emma Thompson, Brendan Gleeson, Daniel Brühl

Distributor: Icon
Released: March 2, 2017
Running Time: 103 minutes
Worth: $10.00

FilmInk rates movies out of $20 — the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth

A movie about the holocaust that lacks fire.

No one wants to criticise a holocaust film; they serve a critical purpose in remembering and learning from the atrocities of our shared history. But when they fail to even strike the middle, they become problematic. Taking a subject as terrifically painful as Nazi Germany and removing the impact is dangerous – and whether it was intentional or not, the lack of fire in Alone In Berlin downplays fascism to seem like more of an ‘upsetting happenstance’ than an extraordinarily brutal plight.

Directed by actor Vincent Pérez (whose directorial credits include little-known features 2002’s Once Upon An Angel and 2007’s The Secret), Alone In Berlin, set in 1940s Berlin at the height of the Second World War, follows working class couple Otto and Anna Quangel (Brendan Gleeson and Emma Thompson) who receive the news that their only son has been killed on the battlefield in France. Already disillusioned with The Führer and The Fatherland, the loss of their son proves the tipping point and Otto begins a campaign of civil disobedience, writing messages on postcards that urge fellow Germans to resist the Nazi regime.

Anna soon partners with Otto and together they covertly distribute hundreds of postcards, left in stairwells and mailboxes across the city. At the head of the police force trying to track down the dissenters is detective Escherich (Daniel Brühl), who faces enormous pressure from the SS to find, stop and bring the traitors to justice.

Based on the international bestseller by Hans Fallada, the original content for the film was strong. But somewhere down the line it all became lost and laboured. Arguably the fault is Pérez’s – whose transparently fearful direction shows his inability to dig any deeper than the surface layers of a greatly sensitive subject. Clearly, his confidence and maturity as a director is wanting, and here, he’s definitely bitten off more than he can chew.

The performances, though notably better than the direction, are a bit like trying to make laksa, giving up halfway, and eating Mi Goreng over the sink instead. Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson start out with the best intentions; they are present, passionate and even rather convincing in places. But much like the laksa, it becomes less-and-less about taste and flavour, and more about just getting something in your stomach. What the pair deliver is passable, but their efforts aren’t exactly what you’d want them to be.

Ultimately the film is a flat-liner. There are just no peaks and troughs, which is remarkable given the tremendously heavy content of the film. It fails in pulling at the heartstrings or even, at the very least, giving any real context to what was a terrifying and dark period in time.



  1. Joachim Staats

    I have to disagree with reviewer Sophia. I thought this film was excellent all round. The film is based on real people, Otto and Elise Hampel ( Otto and Anna Quangel in the film ). In reality it was Elise’s brother that died in war action ( the opening film scenes depicted the couple’s son, called Hans, as dying in action ). The production value is first class and the acting is superb, just what you would expect from the lead cast. The story nicely portrays the emotional destruction of the people at the time of WW2 and that solemn action of Otto and Anna in the film in their protest against Hitler and the war effort. An element of thriller comes into play as the hunt for Otto and Anna gathers pace but this element of thriller is never overplayed in keeping with the overall tone of the film. In my rating this is at least a 4 out of 5 star film. ‘Alone in Berlin’ continues a fine recent trend of Germany producing films showing ‘The Resistance’ to Hitlerism during WW2 that was actioned by Germans themselves. You can check out these German films ‘Operation Valkyrie’, ‘Sophie Scholl’ and ’13 Minutes’. which are gems as well.

  2. Alan Atkins

    I agree more with Joachim Staats than Sophie Watson: and I can’t see why you would call it a holocaust film? It depicts 1940’s Berliners, some of whom were Jewish, being victimised. More a story about real Berlin people. The apartments, furniture, people – in their 1940s drabness were a powerful backdrop. Emma T is very convincing. Brendan Gleeson was also brilliant in the role, but while I could be convinced that Emma was a Berliner housewife, I could not quite excise the “Englishness” from Brendon Gleeson’s film persona – despite his brilliant performance (both Thompson and Gleeson frequently had to act non-verbally at key dramatic moments). Overall the film works very well – I can see that other directors could have hyped up the tension to please one part of the audience, but miss a major part of the point of the story. It surprises me that I liked it more when instead of always building up to gripping, confronting, climaxes, it sometimes defused some potentially more confronting scenes. Perhaps that is true realism?
    At any rate it is a fine film with good performances by the three principals: I’d rate it closer to 8/10 than 7.5/10.

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