Wednesday 12 July 2017

Film: 'Alone in Berlin'

I needed something to lift my prevailing mood, still rather depressed. Unfortunately all that was available was 'Despicable 3' (which might have fitted the bill, but it's not my kind of film), 'War for the Planet of the Apes' (I've only seen the Tim Burton 2014 ' 'Dawn of.....' since they resurrected the franchise in 2000 and wasn't impressed enough to see any more) - and this grim wartime (yet again!) true-ish story. 

It's absolutely the case that the courage shown by some of the characters depicted in this intense drama, 'Alone in Berlin', is uplifting, but I'm so weary of having my nose rubbed in the horrors and miseries of Nazism which (maybe unlike some younger generations, perhaps?) I've been aware of my entire life, that I'm coming to the end of my tether on the subject. However, in this film there are no mass atrocities shown, though there is some individual brutality. But there's still the reportedly ultra-harrowing 'Dunkirk' to come! Oh, saints preserve us!
I think that after seeing 'Dunkirk', any more war films, most particularly WW2 dramas, will go on my 'no-no' list - unless they are a must-see, which I understand 'Dunkirk' is.

Btw: May I just make an aside regarding the 'Planet of the Apes' films? I saw the 1968 original, starring Charlton ("Mr Green-teeth") Heston in the large, then single-screen, 1200-seater Odeon in Middlesbrough - and that experience spoilt me concerning all the rest. I also saw the four progressively increasingly dismal sequels culminating in 1973 when we thought (and hoped?) the theme had been exhausted for good. Little did we then know!
But that first viewing of the original film was a seminal moment in my cinema-going life, with the most jaw-dropping conclusion that no one, least of all me, saw coming. The startled intakes of breath and gasps from the astonished audience I recall as much as I do the screams on seeing 'Psycho'. And I had spent the entire film of 'Planet' up to that moment sitting there and silently fuming at the silliness of seeing apes on another world speaking English - and in American accents too! But all of a sudden, in the final seconds, all was explained. I don't think the surprise of the ending has been topped by any other film before or since. 

Anyway, back to 'Alone in Berlin', which I thought an impressive, very moving film, one which most effectively wound the tension almost up to snapping point, without relaxing for an instant.  
It's 1940 in the German capital shortly after the fall of France, and a husband and wife (Brendan Gleeson and Emma Thompson) have just heard that their only son has been killed fighting in Poland for the Nazis. This provides the trigger for their commencing a campaign of resistance against the German government, taking the form of Gleeson writing out on postcards anonymous injunctions and slogans to encourage people at large to rise up and resist Hitler and the Nazi tyranny. These postcards he, and sometimes she, deposits singly in various locations around the city. The tension in the film is simply and strongly "How long can they get away with it until they are identified?" 
The main investigator into finding the culprit is played by Daniel Bruhl (excellent) as a police chief detective leaned on heavily by the Nazi machine to bring the perpetrator(s) to 'justice' with speed.

While Brendan Gleeson, as a factory manager, displays an impassively neutral expression almost throughout the film, it's Emma Thompson who is as good as we know she can be, which is outstanding. Superficially, she's a Nazi-supporting women's group worker, but increasingly reluctant to participate since the death of her son. Her face, conspicuously without any make-up all through, betrays a formidable range of emotions. I thought she was amazing.

The only dubious point in the film was, I thought, the very final minute which seemed to me rather implausible considering all that had gone before. But the film is based on a novel (by Hans Fallada) which in turn is based on a true story. If the end of the film actually happened then I think a slightly nuanced clue in the film's body as to the conclusion might have improved its credibility. But in the context of the whole it's a minor point.
You also have to accept the entire cast (all apparently German from their names apart from the leading two) speaking in English with German accents, including Gleeson and Thompson  - though after the first few minutes, it didn't distract me too much.

This seems to be the first film I've seen directed by a Vincent Perez, who also has quite a body of acting on his C.V., mainly in French. He controls the tension in this film flawlessly and I'll be looking out for his next project as director. 
Impressive. indeed................7.


  1. I loved the film and agree about Emma Thompson being outstanding, but I also thought Gleeson was too and no requirement for him to have anything but a neutral expression throughout the film. I didn't notice the German accents at all! The ending in the book was unclear; I found it clearer in the film. Reading between the lines, I think I probably enjoyed the film more than you did!

    1. I recalled your strong recommendation, Rachel, and am glad I went before consigning the subject to my 'no-nos'. In fact if you did enjoy it more than I did, as looks probable, part of it is certainly that I've had my fill of wartime films - and also, why does just about every single film we see about Germany have to be in that time, or at least have some reference to it? It's something else I'm more than a bit weary about. I know that German film in that country are not as war-obsessed as we are (probably with good reason0. But really, I'd love to see more normal, contemporary and everyday life German films, or British film relating to that country - as we see occasionally coming from France.
      But this one, I agree - a clear urge from me too to all to see it.

    2. Well Berlin Syndrome which was out recently is set in contemporary Berlin, about a girl alone who ends up locked in the apartment by a boy who befriends her. I chose not to see it much as I love Berlin. I do not like war films at all and did not consider this as such, even though, as you subtly say, it is a wartime film. I won't be seeing Dunkirk. Not my cup of tea at all.

    3. 'Berlin Syndrome' didn't come anywhere near here, Rachel, and I wish it had as, looking it up, it seems interesting. But I don't recall any reviews of it.
      Not looking forward at all to seeing 'Dunkirk' but in that genre it may be the last time for a while when I say "Duty calls!"

    4. Shame. It was on here for over a week. I chose not to see it as I often travel alone and talk to strangers in bars and I got the impression it might scare the living daylights out of me!!

    5. Review of Berlin Syndrome here, on one of my (other) favourite blogs. It does sound interesting, if it ever comes to NZ I will go.

    6. I thought at first, Judith, that this would be another review of 'Alone in Berlin', in fact I hoped it was. But 'The Berlin Syndrome' does actually sound interesting enough to look out for, which I now shall do. Haven't heard any mention of it, though, up to now. Thanks.

  2. Glad to know that you're keeping busy and writing reviews again. I've never seen any of the Ape movies, nor have I seen "Alone in Berlin" - so I'll keep quiet about the subject.

    I mostly wanted to say that it was extremely heartwarming to see all of the kind and encouraging comments on your previous post.
    Take care.

    1. The numerous, kind and generous comments have been a great solace to me, Jon. I'm still in deep grief but am wearing a mask which slipped off this morning. I see reminders all over the place, both inside and outside in the garden, and I just couldn't help but let go. But anything to be a distraction to get me over this period of inner mourning is helpful. Thanks yet again for your thoughts. I really do value them.

  3. I have this thing about war movies ...

    I have no interest at all in any film about war ... Saving Private Ryan and Dunkirk ... for example. but I love to see films about life in times of war ... Schindler's List and The Pianist ... for example.
    I am avidly anti-war even on film, I guess.
    From the sounds of your review, I might like this.

    PS Glad you're back to your regularly scheduled programming after your last few days. It's good to have you back.

    1. It's far from easy, Bob, but I'm trying to act as I used to before this shattering, very painful, event happened, while my heart still feels heavy as hell. Christ, how I miss him!

      In 'Alone in Berlin' the war itself is just a background 'noise'. It's the Nazi intolerance of criticism and resistance that is the main adversary, so for that reason, with virtually no combat scenes (apart from the opening pre-credit couple of minutes) there's every reason to see this. I do think you'll like it quite a lot and it deserves to be so regarded.

      Btw: Although I know that both 'Schindler' and 'Pianist' (as well as 'Ryan') were very good films I couldn't watch any of them again as being too painful to re-experience. I'm fully expecting to b saying the same about 'Dunkirk'.

  4. Glad to know that you're keeping busy and writing reviews again.


    1. I need the distractions to maintain a level of sanity, S.S., otherwise I really would go MAD!!!! :-)