Alone in Berlin
Directed by Vincent Perez
Released January 13, 2017
One of the most common retrospective statements about the rise of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust is that one of the main reasons it was able to happen was that so many let it. The subject of many films related to the era have to do with instances of individual resistance, ranging from solitary representative actions to directly saving many lives. “Alone in Berlin,” one of the first official releases of the year, tells one story about the former, highlighting a couple that found it necessary to do something to show the public the evil going on around them.
Otto Quangel (Brendan Gleeson) is a factory worker married to Anna (Emma Thompson) in 1940 Berlin. He and his wife receive the devastating news that their son has been killed while away at war. Something changes in Otto as a result, and he begins to write postcards that he leaves on the steps of buildings and around Berlin decrying the Fuhrer as a liar and exposing the Nazi party for what it really is. A dogged investigator (Daniel Bruhl) is assigned to the case, and he begins to track Otto as his activities increase and he goes even further to spread his message.
The themes present in “Alone in Berlin” could not be more relevant today. There is a mesmerizing quiet intensity to just placing a letter on a stair that goes against what’s popularly known and spoken about, for one random person to happen upon and read. It’s such a simple act of rebellion long before the internet age, which would surely explode now as a tweet read all around the world. The difference is that Otto has no idea who will read his message, but he feels that it is necessary to speak up, something that those around him are too scared or otherwise unwilling to do.
Gleeson and Thompson are both highly-acclaimed actors, and their interest in this project makes complete sense. While its story is compelling, the film’s construction and pacing don’t match its quality at all. The admittedly engaging and meaningful premise doesn’t really come to life in a purposely dreary setting without much energy. As a drama, the film is dry, and as a thriller, it doesn’t excite nearly as much as it should. Still, it’s a worthwhile subject, and this is far from a bad movie even if it’s not the most enthralling.