Friday, June 9, 2017

Vincent Perez's World War II, anti-Nazi oddity, ALONE IN BERLIN, makes its DVD debut

That handsome, exotic-looking hunk, Vincent Perez (shown below), has had quite an acting career -- some 66 roles already (his 53rd birthday arrives this Saturday) -- topped off in my estimation by his performances in Queen Margot and the late Patrice Chereau's masterwork, Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train. His career as a director has remained pretty much a non-starter, however, and his latest endeavor, ALONE IN BERLIN, will not do much to burnish this.

Alone in Berlin is not an awful film by any means, but it never somehow takes off, instead simply sitting there, waiting to happen. As my spouse noted about a half-hour in, "I can't figure out the focus here." In a way, this at least means that M. Perez is not hitting us atop the head with his "point," but on the other hand he could easily has made his movie crisper, tighter and more compelling. As director and co-adapter (with the team of Achim and Bettine von Borries) from the novel by Hans Fallada, Perez seems content to simply let the story tell itself, with pacing that seldom varies as incident (very) slowly piles upon incident until, at last, the viewer is drawn in.

The movie's cast is certainly A-1, led by Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson (above), with Daniel Brühl (below) bringing us another of his naughty Nazi performances, à la the recent Zookeeper's Wife. Thompson and Gleeson plays a German couple in 1940, in the midst of the Second World War, whose son is killed -- this is the first thing we see in the film -- on the front lines in what I suspect is France.

The couple, who were never, it appears, pro Hitler or pro-Nazi (it is made clear that the husband is not a party member) are so angry and unsettled by their loss that they -- in particular, he -- begin writing post-card size messages against the Nazis and Hitler and leaving these in odd but public places where they are sure to be found. (Such a thing, along with the couple who perpetrated it, is evidently a part of German history.)

Now, as partisan/agitator/protest goes, this is very small potatoes. But it is also what makes the movie at least unusual. We know how little real good this can do, and yet it is all these two people seem capable of, and in fact, simply must engage in due to their anger and loss. And indeed, it does seem to make the local Nazis -- leaders and underlings -- lose their cool.

There is some suspense generated as our protagonists place their little cards and once are almost caught, and there is interest aroused in the way that Brühl's investigator goes about tracking the couple. (Oddly, the film's most compelling section has to do with the sleazy fellow falsely accused of planting the cards, and what happens to both him and his investigator in the wake of all this.)

I suspect you will keep watching (we certainly did) just to learn what happens and why. Alone in Berlin is not great cinema, to be sure. But neither is it anything like a total loss. From IFC Films and running 103 minutes, the movie arrives on DVD this coming Tuesday, June 13 -- for purchase and/or rental.

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