World War Two is a popular setting for films. However, most of the ones we see are from the point of view of the Allies; the Germans are there to be easy villains the audience doesn’t mind getting killed by the cavalier (usually) American hero. However like with most conflict there are always two sides to it. While it is easy to see Germany during World War Two as the giant collective evil of Nazism, it is also easy to forget the struggles of individual Germans within a system of oppression and fear. Alone in Berlin is one such film, a co-production between the UK, France and Germany (who have been examining their role in the Second World War maturely in art for a long time), hopefully, it will reveal a different side to a Germany during a pivotal part of history.
Based on a true story, Alone in Berlin follows Otto and Elise Hempel (played by Brendan Gleeson and Emma Thompson) who receive news that their son was killed during the battles for France. While the rest of the country celebrates the glorious victory, the now childless couple decide to rebel against the Nazism. The plan is to leave postcards around Berlin with messages informing the populace about Hitler’s evil intentions. These actions attract the attention of the Police Investigator, played by Daniel Brühl, and a game of cat and mouse begins.
Before moving onto the core part of the review addressing the performances, it is always important to consider the cinematography, editing, music and sound design of a film, after all, all of these elements come together to create a compelling and entertaining film. It is very hard to talk about these things because when they are good, for the most part, the editing and shot composition is invisible. Though it must be said that the world in which the characters exist feels cohesive and entirely believable.
Now on to perhaps the most import part of the film, the performances. As always Gleeson and Thompson both give a charm and emotional weight to their roles. Though they are part of Nazi society and they contribute in different ways, Otto is a foreman at a carpentry factory, and Elise is part of the National Socialist Women’s League, because of the actors’ performances are able to sympathise and route for their struggle against Hitler’s regime. Thompson and Gleeson have already proved their ability as actors in past roles, but together in this film, they shine as one of the movie’s biggest selling points. Even though they are Irish and English, their German accents are fantastic (in the opinion of a non-German speaking 20 something).
The rest of the performances, however, leave a little more to be desired. While they are serviceable, there is a slight uncanniness to them. Though this may be the fault of the dubbing mix that makes the actors’ voices sound unconnected to the world, or English is not their first language. However, that is no excuse for veteran German actor Daniel Brühl, whose police chief Escherich lacks the necessary bite that this sort of role requires. There is ample opportunity for the character to go through proper catharsis as he begins to realise the corruption and evil of a regime he is helping by hunting down the Hempels. That is not to say that he is bad, it is just that in comparison to Emma Thompson or Brendan Gleeson Brühl fades into the background.
However, the problems I have with Brühl may be due to the story. While it is asking much of a script to deal with both sides of an investigation, most don’t even attempt it, what Alone in Berlin tries is to explore the investigator and the person being investigated. While it makes a valiant attempt at this, due to placing a lot of run time of the Hempels over Escherich means that the detective’s character is rushed and simplified.
Despite minor flaws in performance and story, Alone in Berlin is still an excellent film and the performances by Brendan Gleeson and Emma Thompson carry the movie to fantastic heights, and when it is finally released to cinemas, I would recommend that everyone see it to challenge their perceptions about Nazi Germany.