2016 Certificate: 12

Synopsis

Grieving parents Otto and Anna Quangel (Brandan Gleason and Emma Thompson) react to the news that their soldier son has lost his life on the battlefield by resisting the Nazi regime in their own way. They begin a small-scale campaign of leaving anti-Hitlerite postcards in public places in Berlin...but Daniel Bruhl's dogged police detective - leaned on by the SS - is soon on their trail. Sober and powerfully poignant adaptation of the bestselling 1947 novel by Hans Fallada.

Director

  • Vincent Perez

Cast

  • Emma Thompson

  • Brendan Gleeson

  • Daniel Brühl

  • Mikael Persbrandt

  • Louis Hofmann

  • Katharina Schüttler

  • Godehard Giese

Review

Almost a companion piece to the superlative Sophie Scholl, this quietly moving story of subtle resistance to the Nazi regime illuminates that - even when Germany was winning the war - ordinary people didn't always buy into its twisted values.

Unlike Scholl, the idealistic Munich student who was guillotined for spreading anti-Nazi propaganda, Otto and Anna Quangel (Gleeson and Thompson) aren't your normal fired-up political agitators.

She looks after their neat Berlin apartment while he is a respected foreman at a carpentry factory whose main business seems to be churning out coffins for German soldiers fallen on the Western front during the advance into France.

However, when they receive the dreaded news that their only son has been killed in action, their response is, at first, mute anguish before Otto hits on the idea of leaving post-cards with an anti-Hitlerite message on stairwells and doorsteps of public buildings.

Quietly but determinedly they go about their clandestine business, a campaign of opposition - as Otto describes it "sand in the machine" - that is quickly brought to the attention of by-the-book police detective Escherich (Bruhl).

Director Vincent Perez's adaptation of Hans Fallada's 1947 novel (based on the true story of Otto and Elise Hampel) avoids grand gestures but builds up a convincing picture of a viciously insidious regime where decency and fair play are subverted by a crooked officialdom.

The couple's aristocratic Jewish neighbour finds herself the target of a greedy Nazi from the floor below and his thuggish Hitler Youth son while Escherich himself - subservient and diligent - is brutally leant on by SS bully boys to identify those behind the postcard even if it means fingering the wrong - innocent - man with terrible consequences.

The Quangels themselves, on the face of it a dour, inward-looking couple, are given a spark of life as their tiny act of resistance re-ignites their love for one another, a state of affairs that makes what could be around the corner all the more dreadful.

It's a sombre, handsome-looking movie that prefers small deeds - the brushing of a hand on a face - to noisy symbolism and is all the more powerful for it.

Tim Evans