To dismiss Alone in Berlin as a Europudding would probably be a little harsh: after all, the dictionary definition of the term is European co-productions that tend to be “lacking in coherence, individuality or authenticity”.
In the case of this worthy World War II drama, it only really falls down on the ‘individuality’ count. However, by playing things so safe, what emerges is a respectful but bland period piece.
As the title suggests, the setting is Germany’s capital in 1940, a time when the Nazis had swept all before them. Alone In Berlin zeroes in on a small but brave act of rebellion carried out by an ordinary couple, Otto and Anna Quangel (Brendan Gleeson and Emma Thompson), whose only son is killed during the invasion of France. Otto – a respected factory supervisor who nevertheless has refused to join the party – decides to channel his grief by writing anti-Nazi slogans on postcards, which he then deposits around the city. He knows that the majority of them will end up being handed in to the Gestapo, but he hopes his protest will put a bit of “sand in the machine”, something which could eventually contribute to the collapse of the regime. His wife insists on joining him on his mission once she discovers what he is up to, and a cat-and-mouse game duly begins between them and a smug detective (Daniel Brühl), who is assigned to track them down.
Actor-turned-director Vincent Perez ratchets up the tension effectively as the net slowly closes on the couple and the period settings are faithfully recreated. However, Perez and his co-writers never manage to articulate quite why these ordinary folk went to such extraordinary lengths to make their protest and whether it had any impact at all on the people who picked up the cards. The sympathies of their friends and neighbours are also hinted at, but frustratingly they are never really explored in any depth either.
What prevents Alone in Berlin becoming an unappetising serving of Europudding are the performances of the two leads (despite their slightly dodgy accents). Gleeson in particular is superb as the gruff, plain-speaking rebel who nevertheless is smart enough to know their small-scale act of resistance is ultimately doomed to fail. It’s just a shame that Perez’s cinematic ambitions prove to be as modest as the Quangels’ fictional campaign.
In cinemas: March 2, 2017
Starring: Brendan Gleeson, Emma Thompson, Daniel Brühl
Directed by: Vincent Perez