Opening 17 Nov 2016
Between 1940-and 1942 Otto Hampel and his wife Elise anonymously wrote and distributed 267 (some say 285) postcards in their Berlin neighborhood, in which they denounced all actions by the Nazi and called on fellow citizens to rebel. The incentive came due to the death of Elise’s brother on the war front. After the war German author Hans Fallada received original Gestapo files about the Hampels from a colleague. He based his book Jeder stirbt für sich allein on this true story, published in 1947. Here this ordinary couple is Otto and Anna Quangel and the incentive is a fictional death of their son. It wasn’t until 2009 that the novel was published in the U.S. in English under the title Every Man Dies Alone; In the UK it was called Alone in Berlin (the translation of its title in France).
Now director Perez has filmed Fallada’s novel for which he called on well-known actors Emma Thomsen to play Anna and Brendan Gleeson is Otto. German Daniel Brühl plays Criminal Inspector Escherich, the Nazi officer who eventually arrests them after a long search and helpful tips from the neighborhood. All the various residents in their apartment house have their own interesting characteristics, although in this threatening time, it was best to keep a low profile. Streets scenes are perfectly filmed with vintage cars and costumes. There is a side story in which the rocky relationship between Otto and Anny becomes closer while they work together on this common cause. Neither one seemed to fear the certain death sentence which awaited them. Perez moved the filming to Görlitz on Germany’s far eastern border to Poland, where he found an old apartment building to his liking, something that was no longer available in Berlin, the actual site of the story. Alone in Berlin showed in competition at the 2016 Berlinale. It won nothing and the journalists in my special showing were extremely dissatisfied. It comes across as a “fake” pretending to be German, perhaps because it was filmed in English with the actors trying too hard to put unlikely German accents into their pronunciations, although Daniel Brühl had no problem with this task. The original novel is wonderful, which everyone should read, while waiting for a really good film version to come into the cinema, which is surely inevitable. (Becky Tan)