Liv Lisa Fries plays German resistance fighter Hilde Coppi in this powerhouse biopic

From Hilde, With Love

Source: Berlin International Film Festival

‘From Hilde, With Love’

Dir: Andreas Dresen. Germany. 2024. 124mins

The story of the German resistance to the Nazi regime has been told before in books, documentaries and fictional features, but rarely so freshly and movingly as in this account of the life and premature death of Hilde Coppi, who was executed for subversive activities in August 1943, nine months after the birth – in prison – of her first child.

’Babylon Berlin’ star Liv Lisa Fries gives a compelling performance 

Babylon Berlin star Liv Lisa Fries gives a compelling performance as a woman who at first, the film suggests, was something of an accidental revolutionary, brought into the anti-Nazi resistance through her love for the man who in 1941 would become her husband, Communist activist Hans Coppi. Screenwriter Laila Stieler places Hilde in every scene of her nuanced script, probing away at the complexity of a character who is both shy and strong, unsure of herself but dependable; often in a back seat but able to take charge when necessary. It’s Hilde’s eyes that stay with you: searching, expectant, burning with life force even at the darkest moments.

Famous members of the German anti-Nazi resistance such as ‘White Rose’ member Sophie Scholl or the Munich bierkeller bomber Georg Elser have already had the biopic treatment – in, respectively, 2005 (Sophie Scholl – The Final Days) and 2015 (13 Minutes). Few viewers outside of Germany will know much about the loose band of anti-Nazi disruptors who are the focus of From Hilde, With Love, to which the regime attached the blanket term ‘Red Orchestra’. This gives director Dresen and scriptwriter Stieler a certain freedom, and they use it to portray the group of friends and co-conspirators as youthful rebels not that different, in substance, from the Parisian protestors of May 1968, the kids of the Arab Spring, or today’s Just Stop Oil activists. 

But this is no post-modern ahistorical game. It’s just a question of toning down the costumes, tweaking the hairstyles a little, and – perhaps the most impressive achievement – removing from the picture the usual Nazi stereotypes that would set all this state-sponsored repression and murder at a safe distance. When a pregnant Hilde is arrested at the start of the film, the young, civvy-clothed officer in charge seems positively jovial: he asks if he can feel her bulging stomach, because his wife is expecting too.

In jail, and later in the maternity ward where Hilde gives birth in a bravura sequence that has the audience as well as the mother having to remember to breathe, there is kindness. It comes from a haunted pastor played by Dresen regular Alexander Scheer, from a caring midwife and, later, from the most unexpected quarter – Frau Kuhn (a terrific Lisa Wagner), a dour guard with a downturned mouth, who seemed destined to be the designated women’s prison sadist. But this just makes Hilde’s plight all the more affecting and somehow current, as there is nothing any act of charity or simple humanity can do to stop the wheels of the machine that has condemned her

The story of how Hilde ended up in a rough hemp gown in this prison netherworld with its drab blues, greens and browns, iron mattresses, wooden chairs and tin mugs, is told in a series of interleaved flashbacks that mostly play back in time. With their morse-code shortwave radio transmitter and their nighttime raids spent rewriting the message of Nazi propaganda posters, Johannes Hegemann’s Hans and his circle of friends seem almost to be playing at revolutionaries as they attempt to send messages through to Moscow.

There is no real line between hate for the regime and love for life: morse code and lovemaking get all tangled up when Hans and Hilde finally take the brakes off their mutual attraction. Suffused with light, these flashback scenes seem to be set in an endless summer of lakeside camping trips and high-spirited jaunts in Hans’s motorbike and sidecar. They also serve to sketch in the social heterogeneity of friends who have come together because of their convictions, but also think the way they do because they like each other. In this, From Hilde, With Love redresses a historical imbalance, showing a young, free-thinking generation that rarely features in accounts of Germany in the early 1940s. Some were even conscripted soldiers.

There is a brief moment, just after Hilde’s cursory trial with its mute defence attorney, when the regularity of the prison-flashback-prison structure becomes a little dilatory but, in its final act, the film builds to a dramatic, moving crescendo. It does so not by hammering away at the injustice of Hilde’s fate – that’s a given – but by celebrating the small joys of parenthood, the touch of a lover’s skin and the adrenalin of a common cause.

Production companies: Pandora Film 

International sales: Beta Cinema,

Producers: Claudia Steffen, Christoph Friedel

Screenplay: Laila Stieler

Cinematography: Judith Kaufmann

Production design: Susanne Hopf

Editing: Jorg Hauschild

Main cast: Liv Lisa Fries, Johannes Hegemann, Lisa Wagner, Alexander Scheer, Emma Bading, Sina Martins, Lisa Hrdina, Lena Urzendowsky, Nico Ehrenteit