Candice Tan
by Candice Tan

Movies set during wartime tend to be filled with suspense and thrills as the plot twists and turns against clues, near-misses, and hair-raising confrontations. This is no different with Vincent Perez’s war drama, Alone In Berlin, starring Brendan Gleeson and Emma Thompson, which tells the incredible story of German resistance as an ordinary working-class couple rebel against the massive Nazi regime in an unusual way.

Alone In Berlin

Motivated by the death of their son fighting on the frontlines, Otto (Gleeson) and Anna Quangel’s (Thompson) grief and disillusionment become the driving force behind their decision to surreptitiously protest and undermine the state by leaving handwritten anti-Hitler and anti-Nazi postcards dotted around the city. They did so to inspire or at least plant the seed of resistance in the general public. Perhaps more than that though, as grieving parents, this was their way of dealing with their personal tragedy and injustice they felt in serving their Führer.

The postcards continued to turn up in innocuous places like stairwells and mailboxes, with their ‘civil disobedience’ messages scrawled on them. The couple knew what they were doing was unlawful, but they still believed in their cause. Even the diligent police inspector in charge of finding the couple, Escherich (convincing portrayal by Daniel Brühl) is shown to develop a respect for the elusive couple over the 2 years of their cat-and-mouse chase.

There was a postcard resistance couple during WWII

Like most movies, the tagline of ‘based on true events’ adds significant weight to the narrative. But like most movies, there has been some creative licence and changes to the original story. There was a real couple who showed dissent through postcards during WWII - Otto and Elise Hampel – but they were motivated following the death of Elise’s brother, not son.

The film is based on a fictionalised novel about the couple

The Hampels’ story was found through the searching of Nazi files after WWII. Poet and novelist Johannes Becher then asked his friend Hans Fallada to tell the tale of this brave couple. The novel, Every Man Dies Alone, was published posthumously in German in 1947 and was only translated into English in 2009.

A subject close to the Director’s Heart

A movie about World War and the Nazis, Alone In Berlin is a sensitive topic for German-born director Vincent Perez. His family had lived through the fears of the Second World War. Perez’s paternal grandfather was shot by fascists in Spain, while his great uncle was killed by the Nazis in a gas chamber. Yet another uncle had died fighting on the Russian front.

Although Alone In Berlin was set in the chaos of World War II, it touches on a fear close to every parent’s heart- the devastation of child loss. With stellar performances by Gleeson and Thompson, this touching story by actor-turned-director Perez is a tale of courage, bravery, and more importantly a parent’s love.