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Alone in Berlin subtly tells a true story of life during wartime, leaving the frontlines for the trenches of domestic suffering. While not the most formally adventurous or action-packed picture, it is a film of compelling urgency.
In the opening moments, a young German soldier is killed in the fighting in 1940 France. We quickly learn that he was the son of Otto and Anna Quangel (Brendan Gleeson and Emma Thompson), a middle-aged German couple now consumed by grief. As a form of resistance, the two start sending out anonymous anti-Nazi postcards, which quickly draw the ire of Berlin’s militant police force.
Alone in Berlin is at its best when it homes in on the details of this tragically fated story: Shots of the carefully lettered cards being placed around the city recall images from noirish films of the era like Le Corbeau (1943). The banality of evil is a constant presence throughout the city: We see not the horrors of concentration camps but rather quaint, dusty streets where Hitler Youth posters and swastika flags just happen to be present. Evil is integrated, and with their postcards, Otto and Anna practice a small but meaningful act of rebellion. One of the early cards he writes urges readers to “stop the war machine,” a command that would resonate in too many periods of world history.
While Alone in Berlin may at times come off as too understated (Otto and Anna are rather opaque characters), it makes for a fairly engaging exploration of how one lives day to day in the face of historical horror.
Alone in Berlin
Directed by Vincent Perez
Opens January 13, IFC Center