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In Balloon, a Great Escape from Socialism

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movie-review-balloon-great-escape-from-socialism

An edge-of-your-seat thriller delivers a timely reminder: People risked their lives to flee the Soviet Bloc.

Kyle Smith

February 26, 2020

A joke told among East Germans: A lady seeks directions to Principle’s, the department store. Principles? There is no such store, she is told. Not true, says the lady: Chairman Honecker tells us everything can be bought . . . in principle.

The German film Balloon explores the Iron Curtain from an unusual angle: above. Two ordinary families living a routine existence in Poessneck, a small East German town in 1979, yearn to escape by making their own hot-air balloon and soaring south over the border into West Germany. Some 75,000 East Germans were imprisoned for trying to make their way into the West, and about 800 were outright murdered by their own security forces in such attempts. The peril level is set at maximum, then, for these average citizens, and layered atop that is the massive danger of sailing thousands of feet up in a rickety jury-rigged contraption built by amateurs. Balloon revels in exploring the details of every possible kind of danger these people face, so it’s a nerve-wincher, a cracking good escape thriller, but that’s not all it is.

As breathtakingly plotted as the film is, it is nevertheless based on the true story of Peter Strelzyk (Friedrich Mücke) and Günter Wetzel (David Kross), who together with their wives Doris (Karoline Schuch) and Petra (Alicia von Rittberg) schemed to become the first people ever to escape East Germany in a hot-air balloon. The story was previously filmed at Disney, in Night Crossing (1982), but that retelling was much less faithful to the facts.

Balloon takes care not to exaggerate the suffering of Peter and Günter and their families. Even in a police state, it’s possible to muddle through.....(Snip)

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