Der Tunnel
(The Tunnel)

Der Tunnel (The Tunnel)
Made in: Germany
Language: German
Director: Roland Suso Richter
Starring: Heino Ferch, Alexandra Maria Lara, Sebastian Koch, Nicolette Krebitz, Mehmet Kurtulus, Felix Eitner, Uwe Kocksich, Claudia Michelsen, Heinrich Schmieder
Year: 2001

Synopsis: Based on a true story, the film takes place in 1961. Championship swimmer Harry Melchior (played by Heino Ferch), is an East German national hero who defects to West Berlin with the aid of his best friend, Matthis Hiller (Sebastian Koch).

Matthis is an engineer who made it to West Berlin ahead of Matthis, via the sewer system. Upon reaching the West, Hiller establishes a ragtag group of individuals and an elaborate system of communication designed to help East Berliners escape under the very noses of the authorities.

Working with him is an ex-US Army Private, Vittorio "Vic" Castanza (Mehmet Kurtulus), and Fred Von Klausnitz (Felix Eitner). They are later joined by Friederike "Fritzi" Scholz (Nicolette Krebitz), a café worker whose boyfriend is an East German mason who's ordered to help construct this thing called the Berlin Wall.

Harry, who once served time as a political prisoner while in East Germany, is committed to helping his sister, Lotte (Alexandria Maria Lara), escape along with her husband, Theo (Heinrich Schmieder), and daughter. He's also motivated to help Matthis' pregnant wife, Carola (Claudia Michelen), who was caught during Matthis' escape attempt.

Taking over an abandoned factory next to the famed Checkpoint Charlie, Harry, Matthis, and their crew hatch a plan to create a 145 meter-long tunnel under the border for the purpose of smuggling out their loved ones.

As the nearly year-long project progresses, more recruits (and rescue requests) are taken, the Berlin Wall is completed, and the stakes steadily increase, especially once a ruthless Stasi agent (Uwe Kocksich) catches wind of the operation.

The Good: Well acted and directed, Der Tunnel is a solid escape movie/docudrama about heroism and determination. It's quite inspiring, as it contains a universal "accomplishing the impossible against all odds" sort of message while providing a genuine-feeling look at a dramatic time in German history.

Heino Ferch and the versatile Sebastian Koch are the main stand-outs in this film; they do a great job bringing out the human element of the movie.

Well-balanced as an adventure story and character piece, Der Tunnel takes it time telling the individual stories of all its central characters. Often, it's an emotionally powerful film that examines the best and worst of human nature, from the lengths a government will go to oppress its people to the sacrifices individuals make to achieve freedom.

Most powerful of all is the way in which the film points out the stark contrast between life in East and West Berlin, and how a distance of less than 500 feet can mark a separation between two completely different worlds.

The Bad: Der Tunnel is nearly three hours long, and you will definitely feel it. Although that's not necessarily a flaw, this film will burn you out if you're not ready for it ahead of time.

Who would like this movie: This movie's for you if you're a fan of foreign films, and if you have an above-average interest (and knowledge) of Cold War Germany during the early 60s. Keep in mind that it's almost three hours long, but if you're up for it, Der Tunnel is an authentic, and very satisfying tale of human will that contains the perfect mix of drama, adventure, intensity, and humor.

(3 out of 4 stars)

Review written by: Joe Yang

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