Film Review: Alone in Berlin

Alone in Berlin is a quiet, understated film based on the real lives of Otto and Elise Hampel who lived in Berlin during the Second World War. It stars Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson both of whom give superb performances. When their son dies in France, the couple start writing postcards to urge people to protest against Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime. (Wikipedia).

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The title of the film is important. Most of the postcards that the couple wrote were handed in to the police. Their protest did not spark a popular movement at the time. It was a protest based on their personal grief at the loss of their son fighting for the Fatherland in France.

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Most of the people who picked up the postcards handed them into the police. Only 18 people kept the cards.

Like most stories of World War II heroes, it is the story of ordinary people. The couple begins writing postcards subverting Hitler’s regime and distributing them around wartime Berlin.  It’s a story about the impact of they have chosen to do has on other people.

Here  Police Inspector Escherich played by Daniel Brühl executes a man to satisfy the SS who are impatient to catch the “Hobgoblin” who has been writing postcards.

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It is a slow, tragic film in which, we the audience know there will there are no winners.

The film,  which is beautifully filmed, is full of gentle ironies.

Otto is a foreman in a factory that makes coffins and there is a scene where a member of the SS visits the factory and urges a massive increase in productivity to support the war effort.

Elise visits Otto’s work

Elise works for her local women’s mobilisation committee.

She is sacked because she visits the wife of a high-ranking official and tells her that she needs to contribute to the war effort. The woman complains and Elisa is stood down providing her with more time to work with her husband writing the postcards.

Even as Berlin is being pounded by Allied bombers, efforts are continued to catch Otto and Elise.

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In the final scene of the film, Escherich, who has pursued and finally caught and executed both Otto and Elise, stands in front of a map on which he has documented every point where they have placed their more than 200 postcards.

He has gathered up all but 18 of them.

In a final gesture, he picks them all up and throws them out the window. Then he shoots himself.

In the street below, people pick up the postcards and put them in their pockets.

It is 1943. Two years later the Russians will be in Berlin.  Nothing will change.

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