By Nick Boyd.
“Balloon” is a German film based on a true story of two East German neighbor families (the Strelzyks and Wetzels) in 1979 whose goal is to escape into West Germany via, of all things, a homemade hot-air balloon. The movie, filled with a high level of unrelenting suspense and tension, details their efforts to make this happen.
Each family has two sons who desperately want them to be raised in the freedom of the West rather than under the watchful eye of the repressive German Democratic Republic. Peter, the head of the Strelzyk household, is an electrician, while Günter the head of the Wetzel household, is an ambulance driver and would-be scientist.
After the Strelzyks have an unsuccessful first attempt (just narrowly missing making it over the Western border and crashing into a forest), the realization sets in that one false move could expose them, but they are undeterred in constructing a better more weatherproof balloon.
A desperate manhunt ensues as the authorities waste no time gathering evidence and pursuing whom they deem to be ‘traitors.’ A lead investigator is furious that the border patrol somehow let this occurrence get by them. Complicating things a bit is the fact that the Strelzyk’s eldest son Frank, an 8th grader, has a romance with a neighbor girl, whose father works for the Stasi. This agent, seemingly friendly and welcoming, has no idea what his ambitious neighbors are up to.
After the Strelzyks have informed the Wetzels what took place, the two families decide to work together this time and construct a balloon that can fit eight people. The first balloon was only able to fit four people. The families have to work around the clock, as not only are the authorities closing in on them, but Günter finds out that he has to very soon report to active duty, as he has been drafted by the military.
The East German government’s strict regime is made apparent at Frank’s rite-of-passage graduation (as they have to pledge their allegiance to Communism) and in the balloon incident investigation. Even with all the seriousness, the blossoming love between the two teens is a nice break from the high stakes at play and the two actors bring forth believability and chemistry.
It is a very well-acted picture (with a lot of emotion conveyed in the performances) that also effectively delves into the strains of marital and child relations, while at the same time the sacrifices we make to better the lives of our children.
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