Alone in Berlin full movie review - I really hope this makes more people find out about the Hampels
"Alone in Berlin" or "Jeder Stirbt Für Sich Allein" is an English-language film from 2016 (this year) that is a co-production between Germany, France and the United Kingdom.
The director is Vincent Perez and he is also one of the writers. He collaborated with Achim and Bettine von Borries on adapting the novel by Hans Fallada for the screen here. The outcome is a pretty convincing 100-minute movie I must say. Everybody knows about Stauffenberg or Schindler or Rommel and their approach to resistance during the years of Nazi Germany, but hardly anybody knows about Otto and Elise Hampel. These are the real life people that German writer Hans Fallada based his novel on and he called them Anna and Otto Quangel. The two lost their sun during World War II and it shocked them to an extent that they became focused on writing little notes that were critical towards Hitler and the Nazi regime. They distributed these notes in the city of Berlin on all kinds of locations and you can imagine very well that the Nazis weren't amused at all and did all they could to find the delinquents responsible for this.
Let me say first that I watched the West German 1976 movie by Alfred Vohrer with the same title a couple months ago and this is how I found out the first time about the Quangels/Hampels. And I really enjoyed this old film. But I also enjoy this new movie here, even if there are some crucial differences. For example, in the old film the woman is the driving force behind the resistance. In this new film, it is the man. This new movie also focuses clearly more on supporting characters and some have their own stories, while the old movie focuses almost entirely on the Quangels. And last but not least, the ending is pretty different. In the old film, suicide is a major part of the plot, while this new movie also ends with suicide, but from an entirely different perspective.
Now lets take a look at this new movie. The two main characters are played by established and successful actors Brendan Gleeson and Emma Thompson. Daniel Brühl plays the Nazi officer in charge of finding the duo. And of you take a look at the cast list, you will find several other known names if you know a bit about German cinema. But you can actually argue who is lead and who is supporting here. Gleeson's character probably has most of the screen-time, while Brühl has still more than Thompson I think. Thompson has some of the loudest moments of the film though, for example when she reads the note of her son's death or when she pays Schüttler's character a visit. But could the story exist without any of them? I am not sure. Then again, when I say "loudest moments", you probably would not expect Gleeson to be in any of these as his approach to acting usually goes very well with quiet(ly convincing) characters and performances.
In my opinion, this is one of the best 2016 films I have seen so far and I really really hope this will make the Hampels more known. If it takes some occasional dramatization for this, I am perfectly fine with that. I am of course referring here also to the ending with the suicide of Brühl's character. It is entirely subjective how you perceive this scene. I think many will like it, but I can also understand people who will not see it as very realistic as he killed earlier in the film to keep his job. And eventually, it was all for nothing. But I liked the references about him being the only one who read all these notes and how it changed his perspective on things. What I feel also could have been done was talk about the missing notes and how the fact that these were not handed to the Nazis may have been due to some people agreeing with what was written on them. Anyway, back to Brühl, the writers sure did all they could to make his character seem likable despite him being the main antagonist, for example he leaves the bird free, he is not as brutal as the other Nazis in the film, he kills the poor guy only after he says it is the best thing to do etc. I am occasionally not sure how much I like Brühl as an actor, but here he really convinced me and he was on par with Gleeson's and Thompson's strong performances. All in all, I can only repeat myself that I totally recommend checking out this film. It's very much worth watching and delivers in terms of drama, historic context, acting and, last but definitely not least, the emotional impact.