Vincent Perez’s third feature Alone in Berlin, is cinematic proof that having a stellar cast, and telling a fascinating story, does not always equate to being a good movie – struggling to bring Hans Fallada’s bestselling novel to life, in a tedious, regrettably dull feature film.
Set in the titular city during the Second World War in 1940, Otto (Brendan Gleeson) and Anna Quangel (Emma Thompson) are informed their that son has been killed in combat. The grieving couple are not so angry with the perceived enemy, but with the Nazis, and courageously risk punishment as they begin to leave anti-Hitler propaganda all over the city, hoping to swap public opinion and ensure the Germans know who the real enemy here is. Eventually the authorities get wind of this potentially damaging endeavour to their cause, and Gestapo inspector Escherich (Daniel Bruhl) works tirelessly to uncover where these notes originated from.
Though treading on familiar cinematic stomping ground, Alone in Berlin still comes at WW2 from a relatively unique perspective – that of the Germans. Not the Nazis, not the English, and not the Jewish population. In spite of any potential originality that should derive from this fact, Perez’s feature struggles to stand out from the crowd, which is a shame given the talent assembled. It’s getting quite tiresome seeing Bruhl in the generic Nazi role now – though he is certainly accomplished in villainous parts. Gleeson and Thompson are unsurprisingly impressive too, though there is still a suspenseful of disbelief that is required from casting two non-Germans for the parts. The world is becoming a much smaller place now and there’s a craving for authenticity in these tales, and it’s hard not to imagine a better finished product had this narrative been told purely through a German cast. That said, we require such a talented actor for the role Otto, someone who has a grit and vulnerability, to be flawed and heroic – and you couldn’t do much better than Gleeson.
But really where this film falls short is within the distinct lack of suspense. Given the leading duo and striving to remain anonymous and the authorities are hunting them down, you would think this intensity would be a prevalent theme and yet there’s so little dramatic core, nor scenes we have to watch through our fingers. Not exactly scenes we enjoy sitting through, but the sort that should enrich a feature of this nature.