Above: Brendon Gleeson stars as Otto Quangel in the festival’s opening night film, “Alone in Berlin.”
Opening the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival on Tuesday, Jan. 24, “Alone in Berlin” is a must-see.
The film, which premiered at the Berlinale Film Festival last February, is a fictionalized version of the true story of Otto and Elise Hampel, who wrote postcard messages denouncing Hitler and left them in public places across Berlin from 1940 to 1943.
More than 20 years ago, I swore off Nazi-era films after bawling my eyes out while squeezed into the front row of a packed movie theater to see “Schindler’s List.”
This dimly lighted, quiet film has changed my mind.
“Alone in Berlin” opens with an apartment building full of strange bedfellows: a couple of thieves; a retired judge who hides his contempt for Der Führer; an elderly Jewish woman in a hidden attic apartment; and a couple named Otto (Brendon Gleeson) and Anna (Emma Thompson), who receive bad news from the army.
Gleeson is a gentle giant: careful and contemplative as he mourns the loss of his son through woodworking and political action. Thompson’s character feels less actualized, almost too minimalist. I wanted more grieving, more emotion and more action from her.
Gleeson and Thompson move gracefully around each other, never quite connecting until their letter-writing campaign takes front stage.
After dropping the first card together, they share schnapps on a patio overlooking the river. Gleeson tells Thompson: “And so we begin. From now on, we are alone.”
The film is a study of the loneliness that penetrated the Nazi regime. Quiet piano music and wintry scenes of light snow perpetuate a feeling of solitude. Minimal dialogue and dreary grays and blacks set a hushed tone.
But instead of depressing and slow, the film keeps a steady but intriguing pace.
“Alone in Berlin” brings forth a heroic and understated effort to discredit Hitler’s government. It is a story many people do not know, and it is one worth seeing. Because of a handful of graphic scenes and mature content, I’d recommend this film for ages 15 and older.