War affects each person of every nation, but in the midst of fighting in the frontline and the national efforts at home, some more personal stories are neglected. Not everybody who lived in Nazi Germany became complacent about the real motives behind the propaganda. Here we meet older couple Otto (Brendan Gleeson) and Anna (Emma Thompson), who lose their son and become cynical of the war machine that mercilessly claims lives. Alone in Berlin is their story, based on true events, from author Hans Fallada’s 1947 novel of the same name directed by Vincent Perez (Peau d’ange).
From the beginning, we see a fleeting glimpse of fated young man Hans, and that becomes problematic in feeling empathy towards the plight of the parents. While Gleeson and Thompson are strong actors, they are limited with a story that seems them as something of revolutionaries, yet at the same time unable to convince us that that the loss of their son is a real impetus to disseminate cards that undermine the message of the Fuhrer. As a couple they lack intimacy, and it seems that their mission is the only thing holding their marriage together.
By the second half of the movie, the pace quickens when the authorities map together the patterns that pinpoint key locations where our pseudo-vigilante leaves a trail. It’s a small reprieve after a waiting game for the consequences of the couple to take action. Stylistically, the cinematography is a bleak German palette as imagined by Christophe Beaucarne, and the dark hues remind us of the seemingly hopeless situation we are in for the whole movie.
Many citizens can be unassuming in their valiant attempts to subvert authority. Otto and Emma’s story does not have to be a majestic story of survival and courage, nor must it be an assassination attempt on the man himself like in Valkyrie. Their refusal to be ruled by fear, and the director’s emphasis on how numb people can be blind to the plight of their neighbours despite spying on each other or the understated efforts of compassion over futility are the hallmarks.
We just wish that we could know more about their family’s story, and the real impact that their son had on their lives.
Perhaps then, we wouldn’t feel so alone.