Postcard Warfare

A grieving couple takes a secret stand against Nazis

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Alone in Berlin
July 20-23

RPL Film Theatre

Movies about resisting Nazis  are popular lately (I wonder why). Alone in Berlin is fairly low-key next to, say, The Zookeeper’s Wife, but it does drive the notion of small-scale defiance home.

In the early days of World War II, long-time married couple Otto and Anna Quangel (Brendan Gleeson and Emma Thompson) learn their only son has died at the front. Even though they’re both active members of the Nazi party, it takes no time for the Quangels to realize the regime is unstable. The death of their boy is a price too high to pay for a 1,000-year reich. Something must be done.

Given the Gestapo’s tight grip, the Quangels attempt to reach out to others anonymously, by writing postcards and leaving them in public places. Soon enough, the strategy catches the attention of a methodical policeman (Daniel Bruhl, who really should take a break from playing Nazis), and the hunt is on.

Alone in Berlin should have been a much better movie. The story, which is based on real events, is fascinating and timely. Gleeson and Thompson are compelling as ever as two married sad sacks reinvigorated by revolutionary life. And since we’re all well aware Nazis are killers, there’s tension in every corner. Sadly, the material is mismanaged by writer/director Vincent Pérez usually an actor), who does a decent job with specific scenes but doesn’t shape the big picture into something compelling.

No less than three times, Alone in Berlin hints at plotlines that are summarily abandoned. One example: early on, the film goes to extreme pains to establish a spy in the Quangels vicinity and then we never hear from him again. Fair to assume Pérez chopped sections of the movie to keep it under two hours, but still —  I suspect the audience for Alone in Berlin could handle lengthy reflections on the passivity of the German populace in the face of pure evil. ❧