The makers of a movie based on the true story of a German couple who denounced Hitler in handwritten postcards they planted around Berlin after their son was killed in combat were peppered with questions on Monday about why the film was made in English.
“Alone in Berlin”, recounting the story of factory foreman Otto Quangel, played by Brendan Gleeson, and his wife Anna, played by Emma Thompson, living in Berlin in the 1940s was directed by Vincent Perez. It is being show in competition at the Berlin Film Festival for the top Golden Bear prize, to be awarded on Saturday.
Perez said that despite the German subject matter, the story was universal, and this had justified using English-speaking actors for the main roles.
“I think what I like about the fact (of) making the film in English is to bring the film into an international level; you know, that was the aim,” Perez said at a post-screening press conference.
Thompson lent support: “I think that one of the reasons why we did this in English is because it’s a European story and it should apply and feel relevant to all of us whether it’s in French or Portuguese, whatever language it is.”
Thompson was challenged by the opening questioner on how she felt about the rise of nationalist and anti-immigrant movements in Germany and elsewhere around Europe.
“Oh crikey, great start, great start for a movie about something else,” Thompson said, eliciting a ripple of applause and laughter. “Actually there is a quite a good answer, in a sense, because this movie’s about being brave, about saying things that are not popular.”
The postcards that Quangel wrote at home bore slogans such as “help us stop the criminal war machine” and were planted in public places so ordinary people could see them.
All but a handful were immediately turned over to the police, who launched a major hunt for the person responsible.
The couple were eventually caught, tried, and beheaded in Berlin’s Ploetzensee Prison in April 1943. The film is based on a Hans Fallada novel in which the couple’s names were changed from the real life Otto and Elise Hampel.
Gleeson, who portrays Otto Quangel as a blue collar worker who is spurred to action when he realizes his son’s death has been in vain, said what the Quangels did was a testament to the importance of taking a stand against injustice and brutality.
“Even if in practical terms they didn’t start a revolution, the idea of a person, an ordinary person, refusing to go along with the policy of hatred I think is a massive thing,” Gleeson said.