Film · Review

Alone in Berlin Review – Solitary companionship

It’s gonna be another political one. (Or at least I thought it would be. Turns out there’s so little interesting here that nothing really came of it.)

Alone in Berlin is the rather inconsiderate remark of a man who travels along his whole woeful journey with his supportive wife at his side. After the death of their son the formerly upstanding, or at least unremarkable, Nazi couple embark on a campaign of distributing anti-fascist, anti-party propaganda around Berlin. They write the seditious talk on postcards and leave them in public places for passers-by to discover. It is dangerous work, they are pursued by the police and the SS, they also aren’t particularly good at it, only a matter of time ya know.

There’s something needs to be said here about the fact that director Vincent Pérez chose to cast two British actors as our leads. Brendan Gleeson and Emma Thompson put in solid work, but they’re constrained by a script which wholly has them buy into the stiff upper lip bit. The possible tension and excitement of the plot is hidden behind these steely facades who, when even reaching the direst of times, barely let a hint of their internality cross their faces.

On the other hand, the film shot in Berlin and for just about every other character they casted German. The police officer assigned to the hunt is played by the inimitable Daniel Brühl, who is like the one gleaming star in this because his dude is actually allowed to emote about stuff. I mean as one of the best and most prolific German actors in English-language films it makes sense that he be offered all the Nazi roles, like The Zookeeper’s Wife earlier this year, he was a Nazi in that too. He’s so talented, I wish better opportunities present themselves to him.

Looking dapper with the lads

But yeah, we’re agreed: making the good guys explicitly coded as Brits and thereby rendering fascism a uniquely German product is a shitty thing to do. Let’s stop now.

It’s also a film about responsible resistance to a authoritarian government. All like, these people are proper fucking role models. Film based on a fictional novel, which is in turn based on true events and you gotta admire the nerve of these two folks. These stories remind us we can all be doing better. We can always resist more. These folk’s actions don’t seem radical, but their lives on the line. I should be more political.

Especially when we reminded what can be at stake. There’s a brief subplot go on here about a Jewish woman live in the same apartment complex as them. A woman who the residents are keeping quiet about, a few of them are bringing food, helping her survive this hidden existence. Yet once the police arrive some of those residents don’t hesitate at all to start liberating her belongings. She throws herself out a window to escape capture. We are all guilty of this.

Then the film tries to end on a note of moral victory. Wrong choice. It’s like they want us to leave films about World War II feeling all jolly, even when the concept of the film is that fascism is shitty and grinds down its entire populace under an unfeeling boot. We don’t gotta be coming out with a smile on our faces.

Not sure what's wrong with Gleeson's face here.

The other problem is that the whole thing feel so worthy. So many of these goddamn joints do. It cool, these stories are important to be told, they are worthy. They just don’t gotta be wearing it all over their faces so much. Being all dour and grim and without the flicker of a smile so we can all tell this thing is being taken very very serious. I understand the intent but it just kills the film. It ain’t the worst I ever seen but it up there with The Book Thief in terms of heavy hearted sanctimoniousness.

Which is just about all I got to say. I mean, sure I’ve really said nothing, but this is such a nothing film that’s all that can be. I pray for another good one of these someday, for the moment László Nemes’ Son of Saul is streaming on netflix, that’s a powerful, shocking, striking WWII movie. At least it makes you feel something.

Alone in Berlin is currently screening in UK cinemas

Good faces there guys
Images courtesy of IFC

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