Balloon (3 stars)

Balloon

Solidly told thriller based on one family's daring attempt to flee East Germany

People went to extraordinary lengths to escape from East Germany. In the opening titles of Balloon, we are reminded that between 1976 and 1988 some 38,000 tried and failed to cross the Berlin Wall. 462 lost their lives in the attempt.

Previously the basis of 1982 Disney film Night Crossing, Balloon tells the true story of one family's daring escape plan. It is an engrossing mixture of adventure yarn and methodical police procedural that generates moments of pulse-racing tension and captures a sense of a country where paranoia reigns and nobody can be trusted.

Peter Strelzyk (Friedrich Mücke), his wife Doris (Karoline Schuch) and their two children make their bid for freedom in a hand-sewn hot air balloon. One dark night, they take to the skies and drift towards the West, before plummeting to earth agonisingly close to the border. Hastily covering their traces, they try to resume a normal life whilst secretly preparing for a second attempt.

Thomas Kretschmann is a charismatic presence as Seidel, the philosophical Stasi officer assigned to the case. There is almost a flavour of Michael Mann in the way the film charts his methodical pursuit of the family. Evidence is retrieved, leads are followed and witnesses quizzed as Seidel starts to tighten the net. Where they acquired all the material needed to construct such a balloon becomes a key question.

Director Michael Bully Herbig opts for an old-fashioned, slightly sentimental approach but he effectively depicts a world of twitching curtains, treacly interiors and the fear that every neighbour is a potential informer and any careless conversation might cost lives. There is also a sense of the bittersweet sacrifices required for those prepared to leave loved ones and certainty behind for a trip into the unknown. The ticking clock urgency counting down to the escape provides the momentum in what amounts to a solid piece of storytelling.

Limited release from Fri 14 Jun.

Balloon

  • 3 stars
  • 2018
  • Germany
  • 2h
  • 15
  • Directed by: Michael Bully Herbig
  • Cast: Friedrich Mücke, Karoline Schuch, David Kross

Peter Strelzyk (Mücke), his wife Doris (Schuch) and their two children attempt to escape East Germany in a hand-sewn hot air balloon. Herbig adopts an old-fashioned, slightly sentimental approach but it’s an engrossing mixture of adventure yarn and methodical police procedural, with moments of pulse-racing tension.

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