Alone in Berlin
Directed by Vincent Perez
Screenplay by Vincent Perez, Achim von Borries, Bettine von Borries
Starring Emma Thompson, Brendan Gleeson, Daniel Brühl, Mikael Persbrandt
Berlin, 1940. Anna and Otto Quangel receive the news of their soldier son’s death in France. Up to then, they had tried to survive life under the Nazis by minding their own business and not meddling in politics but their loss stirs them to a quiet rebellion.
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Based on a 1947 novel by Hans Fallada, Every Man Dies Alone, and inspired by a true story, this film draws its strength from the performances of Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson, who portray the two protagonists of an instinctive and silent resistance, apparently useless and on the losing side, but in the end incredibly significant, against the Nazi regime.
The Quangels choose an odd form of protest: they write postcards criticising the regime and the war and they leave them, risking their lives, in public places in the hope that someone will find them, read them, and begin to think.
This resistance does not involve weapons or secret organizations, or even foresight (Otto starts on its own and Anna follows him later). But, perhaps without even knowing it, it resembles the gesture of the sower from the parable, casting his “revolutionary” seed on many different patches of soil, leaving its fate to providence and individual freedom.
The movie’s real story, however, is not even about the unbelievable episode, but above all about how it affects Anna and Otto and their marriage. Initially distant (perhaps just out of habit and weariness), the two seem to grow apart as they grieve for their son. But as they carry out their common mission become more united and more in love than ever.
The movie also follows the story of Inspector Escherich, the Gestapo officer in charge of tracking them down: a coward, driven mainly by an instinct for survival rather than by a need for truth. He represents the “banality of evil” described by Hannah Arendt.
It is the comparison between their unseen daily heroism and the fear and complacency of “Hitler’s silent accomplices” (to use an historical expression), that the deeper meaning of this story emerges.
For those who seek a Hollywood version of World War II, Alone in Berlin might seem a little frustrating, with its conclusion already written and its lack of story twists and violent action. The plot sometimes falters but it always maintains its moral compass. When evil is the norm, even the quietest gesture of humanity is revolutionary.
Laura Cotta Ramosino is a story editor for Rai Uno, the national Italian broadcaster.