Seems like all I’m seeing lately are film based on true stories. In this one, two families living in Cold War East Germany in 1979 plan a daring escape to the West in a homemade hot air balloon with a Stasi officer hot on their tail. It’s one of those films where you’re holding your breath and hoping for the best, since the first scene is of a group of border guards being instructed to shoot to kill. What follows is an entertaining political thriller set in the horrifyingly claustrophobic surveillance state where everyone you meet might be the informer who gets you killed.

Two families, the Strelzyks and the Wetzels, each with two children, have been planning for years to make the dangerous trip over the border at night. But when it’s time for the escape, they realize the balloon is not big enough for them all and only one family goes. And they fail, crashing just short of the border in the woods. But they aren’t caught and return to town for another try. Unfortunately, Stasi’s Colonel Seidel (Thomas Kretschmann) finds the wreckage of the balloon and clues that could lead back to the families, and he begins a large scale search to track them down. Meanwhile, the families are busy constructing a bigger and better balloon, and as the clock ticks and Colonel Seidel gets closer and closer, they race against time to get the balloon finished.

It really is an amazing story and you are on the edge of your seat. It’s a given that they escape or we wouldn’t know this heroic story (which was adapted by Disney forty years ago and called Night Crossing.) It is a fairly by-the-numbers script with some misdirection that really isn’t necessary and a few extraneous subplots, and it could have been shorter. Nevertheless, I was with it right up until the end. Kretschmann’s evil Colonel Seidel is the standout performance. And the production values are all first rate, though I wished the musical score had not been so obvious. It’s not a great film, but it’s definitely worth seeing when it comes to your favorite streaming service.

[Mainstream Chick’s take: I completely agree with Arty Chick on this one. ‘Balloonis a decent thriller, driven by a dramatic score that goes a bit over-the-top. You can’t help but root for these families and feel a pang of fear about how easy it is for the world to take two steps forward and one (giant) step back. It’s amazing to see the risks the Strelzyks and the Wetzels took for freedom, and comforting to know that they lived to see the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. My first thought upon seeing ‘Balloon’ (in German, with English subtitles) was that it was ripe for an American remake. Then I discovered – like Arty Chick – that Disney actually got to it first, just a few years after the daring escape, and several years before the Cold War ended. I wouldn’t be all that surprised to see a remake of the remake of the American version. We do love a gripping true story with a happy ending. ‘The German Aeronauts perhaps?  -hb]


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