Review / ‘Alone In Berlin’ (M) *** and a half

ON April 8, 1943, in Plotzensee Prison, Otto and Elise Hampel were beheaded for having distributed around Berlin handwritten cards denigrating Hitler and his war.

Why had they done it? The film says it was because their soldier son was killed in action. In fact it was Elise’s brother. The film calls them Otto and Anna Quangel. Neither fictionalisation matters. The film’s basis is the book “Every Man Dies Alone”, which in turn is based on a Gestapo file handed to Hans Fallada in 1947. It’s a story of quiet resistance that remained in hiding until it was translated into a best-selling title in English in 2009.

Buying the rights to Fallada’s novel influenced writer/director Vincent Perez’s decision to film the story six decades after its events. Perez’s family lost several men to fascist and Nazi brutality. The film reminds generations born after World War II finished about why it was fought and the revolting influences it had on the German people. In telling it without embroidery, Perez travels a path of realism trodden by few filmmakers.

Why should we see it after few people now alive remember how it had been? For memorable performances by Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson as Anna and Otto, and Daniel Bruhl as the dogged police investigator. For a visual, cultural and behavioural re-creation of Germany in 1943 that by all accounts is close to verity. And above all, to remind us of philosopher Edmund Burke’s words – “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”.

It’s probable that the Hampels never heard of Burke much less read him. But what they did exemplifies that epigram.

At Dendy, Palace Electric and Capitol 6

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