Ballon [Balloon] (2018)

Ballon
Director: Michael Herbig
Writer: Kit Hopkins, Thilo Röscheisen, Michael Herbig
Cast: Friedrich Mücke, Karoline Schuch, David Kross, Alicia von Rittberg, Thomas Kretschmann, Jonas Holdenrieder, Tilman Döbler
Seen on: 6.10.2018
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Plot:
Peter (Friedrich Mücke) and Doris Strelzyk (Karoline Schuch) live in the GDR with their family, as do Günter (David Kross) and Petra Wenzel (Alicia von Rittberg). They would all like to leave the GDR, but exit is severely limited and they don’t have the right connections to get an exit visa. When they have the idea to fly across the border to West Germany in a home-made hot air balloon, they start the work. But their activities are noted by Seidel (Thomas Kretschmann) whose job it is to hunt down people who try to flee. And he is very good at it.

Ballon is an exciting, tense film that makes the repression in the GDR very tangible. I was surprised to get a film like this from Herbig who I only know as a comedy director – but it was in no way a bad surprise.

The film poster showing balloon silk burning.

There’s a certain tendency in German pop culture to drape a shroud of nostalgia over the GDR, glossing over the fact that it was a repressive state where people weren’t doing too well and a lot of people died or were killed when they tried to leave, instead nudging each other about the quaint little GDR products that were available at the time etc.

Ballon doesn’t fall into that particular trap. Instead I have rarely seen a film that makes the tightness of the situation, the constant underlying threat, the surveillance everywhere so clear. If you can watch the film and not feel like you would have attempted an escape yourself, you’re definitely made of harder stuff than I am.

Günter Wetzel (David Kross) at a sewing machine.

The cast was great and Thomas Kretschmann makes for an excellently creepy villain (and yet, way too sexy for the strong vibe of fascist asshole he has going on), honed to rack up the tension even more. And there was a lot of tension to begin with. Every once in a while the movie cracks a joke and lightens the mood without ever losing that tension.

Altogether, I was really taken with the film. I didn’t expect much, so the film had an easy time exceeding my expectations. But it really ended up being good regardless of my expectations for it.

The Strelzyk family consulting a map.

Summarizing: Good.

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