It’s easy to forget how desperate people can be when deprived of freedom. Even today, with the world upended by a dangerous pandemic, freedom is often taken for granted in the west.
In the decades before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, many people died trying to escape from Communist East Germany. The suspenseful drama “Balloon” is the true story about how two families made a daring bid to escape tyranny and oppression, risking the lives of the adults and their children.
German director and co-writer Michael Bully Herbig tells this story for the first time using the authenticity of his homeland and a commitment to reveal what happened when the Strelzyk and Wetzel families came up with a daring plan to escape to the west.
Told with skill and tight focus on the characters and events, Herbig brings the story to light with nail-biting suspense as the family works to build a hot air balloon in secret. In real life, there were three balloons. One failed because the materials weren’t strong enough, another became too heavy to fly due to moisture collecting on the balloon’s envelope. The third was able to be launched as members of the German secret police, known as the Stasi, were hot on their tails.
The film stars Friedrich Mücke and Karoline Schach as Peter and Doris Strelzyk, a couple who devise this crazy idea along with their close friends Günther and Petra Wetsel, played by David Kross and Alicia von Rittberg.
Herbig, along with screenwriters Kit Hopkins and Thilo Röscheisen, admirably depict these people and their kids as three dimensional characters, which adds to the suspense when the teenage son of the Strelzyk’s, Frank, played by Jonas Holdenreider, becomes conflicted by his relationship with a girl from school, who just so happens to be the daughter of a Stasi informant.
In the meantime, Oberstleutnant Seidel, played by Thomas Kretschmann, has been given the task of finding the suspected defectors after one of the failed attempts leaves wreckage behind in the forest. His methodical investigation coincides with the family’s work to try and launch another balloon.
This is a brilliant film that could easily compete with bigger budget Hollywood productions. It is made even more authentic given the roots of its production and the ironies of today’s conflicts on the world stage.
The screening of “Balloon” marks a new initiative by the Taos Center for the Arts. Screening today (April 11) through Thursday (April 16), along with documentary features “The Hottest August” and “The Woman Who Loves Giraffes,” the Big Screen @ Home brings the same art house style features it normally used to screen right in the comfort of your home. (See brief synopsis below.)
The Center’s Taos Community Auditorium is closed for the time being due to the pandemic, but the arts organization doesn’t want to let local audiences down. So, here’s the deal: Go to the website tcataos.org
/calendar and scroll down to see this week’s selections.
“Films are curated by TCA and only currently available through independent cinemas online–all you have to do is make your own popcorn,” the website states.
Click on the movie you want to watch. When the selection appears, click on the “Watch Movie” link. After that, you’ll be asked to purchase a ticket and be able to view the film. You can watch the movie on your computer, smartphone, tablet. Or, depending on the film, cast to your Apple TV, Google Chromecast or Roku. Instructions for how to watch on smart TVs are available at ticket purchase, the website states.’
Tickets cost $10 to $12. “These offerings are new releases and/or not widely available films,” the website continues. “If you were going to see this on a big screen, a single entry at TCA costs between $7-$8.50. If there are 2 or more of you, it’s a deal! And even though TCA does not set the ticket price (the digital distributors do), we receive 50 percent of the ticket sales.”
Once you purchase a ticket, you will most likely be able to view the film as many times as you like for three to five days.
So, while social distancing and curfews are in place, you now have even more opportunities to see great movies and help out a local organization.
“Balloon” is not rated, but does contain some suspense and dangerous situations involving children. In German with English subtitles and credits. Pass costs $10.
Tempo grade: A
Also showing in the Big Screen @ Home series through April 16
The Hottest August
Ordinary people in New York are asked to talk about their lives and their hopes for the future in a time marked by political division and climate change.The film’s point of departure is one city over one month: New York City, including its outer boroughs, during August 2017.
It’s a month heavy with the tension of a new President, growing anxiety over everything from rising rents to marching white nationalists, and unrelenting news of either wildfires or hurricanes on every coast. The film pivots on the question of futurity: what does the future look like from where we are standing? Pass good for three days.
The Woman Who Loves Giraffes
Dr. Anne Innis Dagg re-traces the steps of her groundbreaking 1956 journey to South Africa to study giraffes in the wild – and discovers a startling contrast between the world of giraffes she once knew and the one it has become. Pass good for five days.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres in Taos remains closed for the time being in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Until it reopens we will focus on movie reviews available online and through the TCA’s Big Screen @ Home series.