While Vincent Perez’s “Alone in Berlin,” about a German couple who lose their only son at the front in 1940 and begin writing postcards as a form of resistance against the Nazi regime, may at first glance appear to be a very German tale. However, the director and his cast said on Monday that they chose to make the Berlin Competition entry in English because it was ultimately a European story.
Pointing out that as the son of a Spanish father and a German mother and born in Switzerland, Perez said he saw himself as “totally European,” adding, “As a European, I really wanted to bring this film up to an international level.”
Indeed, the film is based on the 1947 novel by German author Hans Fallada, who was inspired by the true story of a working-class couple in Berlin who risked everything to raise awareness and protest the actions of the Nazi regime.
Emma Thompson, who stars as the grieving mother turned anti-Nazi provocateur alongside Brendan Gleeson as her husband, echoed Perez. “One of the reasons we did this film in English is that it’s a European story,” Thompson said.
Daniel Bruehl, who stars as a police investigator in the film, underscored parallels from that era to modern-day Germany, which has seen an enormous increase in attacks on immigrants and refugees. “What the film is dealing with is still very relevant and current. In this country there is a growing movement to the right and we have to be really careful not to be poisoned. The disease is not extinct. That’s why it’s important to have this film.”
Thompson said the film sought to capture the foreboding atmosphere of the time — a climate that other totalitarian regimes have created in other countries. “Once you set people against each other and get them to spy on one another, you create hell.”
Gleeson pointed out that it was a testament to the courage of the real couple who inspired Fallada’s book, Otto and Elise Hampel, that their story not only became a bestselling novel around the world but also inspired films, including Perez’s latest adaptation.
Producer Stefan Arndt of Berlin-based X Filme said the filmmakers really wanted to tell the story of normal people, working-class people, and their actions against the Nazis, rather than the more typical World War II tales that tend to focus on Adolf Hitler or the aristocratic officers who turned against him when they began losing their wealth.