Keswick Film Club - Reviews - Balloon

Reviews - Balloon


Reviewed By Roger Gook

Between 1976 and 1988, people went to extraordinary lengths to escape from East Germany. At the start of Balloon, shown last Sunday at the Keswick Film Club, we are reminded that between 1976 and 1988 about 38,000 tried and failed to cross to the West and 462 lost their lives in the attempt.

The 1982 Disney film 'Night Crossing', told the story of a family trying to make this escape. 'Balloon' is an updated telling of the story, with perhaps more thought to the background reality of living in East Germany. The film is a mixture of the adventure story of the attempted escape against the meticulous and ruthless efforts of the secret police to stop them. There are moments of tension (although mainly driven by an over insistent soundtrack) and a great sense of a country where paranoia reigns and nobody can be trusted. The background of Soviet era East Germany is effectively created, with lots of Trabant cars and beige paint.

The family make their bid for freedom in a very unlikely looking hand-sewn hot air balloon, which we have to trust is somewhere near the truth. The first attempt frustratingly fails very close to success. As the police close in, they are forced to make a second attempt.

The father and mother are played in a rather wooden way and don't give a great sense of danger or excitement. The most effective character is the Stasi officer pursuing them, driven by pressure from above and by the personal challenge.  The well-constructed narrative counts down to the escape and provides the momentum in what amounts to a solid piece of storytelling.

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Keswick Film Club won the Best New Film Society at the British Federation Of Film Societies awards in 2000.

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