The Tunnel

Set in 1961 Berlin and based on the a true story of a large-scale escape from East to West Germany beneath the newly constructed Wall, this is a character-driven adventure no screenwriter would dare make up. August, 1961: Disgusted by his country's increasingly oppressive government and its determination to exploit his fame for its own ends, swimming champion...read more

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Set in 1961 Berlin and based on the a true story of a large-scale escape from East to West Germany beneath the newly constructed Wall, this is a character-driven adventure no screenwriter would dare make up. August, 1961: Disgusted by his country's increasingly oppressive government and its determination to exploit his fame for its own ends, swimming champion Harry Melchior (Heino Ferch) — in real-life, Hasso Herschel — escapes to the West shortly after the Wall is completed. He's forced to leave behind his beloved sister, Lotte (Alexandra Maria Lara); her husband, Theo (Heinrich Schmieder), is seduced by the perks that come with his cushy job and doesn't want to start over from scratch or endanger their small daughter. In West Berlin, Harry rejoins his oldest friend, Matthis (Sebastian Koch), an engineer who escaped through the sewers some months earlier; his wife, Carola (Claudia Michelsen), was captured and now languishes in jail. Matthis' new friends include fellow escapee Fred (Felix Eitner), whose aristocratic family was systematically persecuted by the communist state and whose elderly mother remains in the East, and Vic (Mehmet Kurtulus), an Italian-American G.I. who lost a leg to a land mine and hopes to even the score by helping East Germans escape. Frustrated and fearful that Lotte and her family will pay the price for his escape, Harry comes up with an ambitious plan. There's an abandoned factory building right on the sector line — no one wants to rent it because of its proximity to the wall — and with Matthis' engineering skills, they could dig a tunnel through the cellar. It's a massive undertaking: The tunnel will have to be 7 yards deep and 145 yards long — 93 of them on East German soil — and will come up in the basement of a cafe. They're joined by a determined girl, Fritzi (Nicolette Krebitz), who overheard them plotting; she's desperate to get her fiance (Florian Panzner) out. They later recruit 10 more escapees; between them, the diggers hope to bring 35 friends and family members to the West. Even NBC TV gets involved, exchanging much-needed cash for the rights to film the story as it unfolds; the result aired as part of the network's long-form documentary series White Paper. Trimmed from 188 minutes to 157 for U.S. release, Roland Suso Richter's film is genuinely gripping, balancing the travails of constructing the tunnel against the characters' stories with considerable skill.

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  • Released: 2001
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Set in 1961 Berlin and based on the a true story of a large-scale escape from East to West Germany beneath the newly constructed Wall, this is a character-driven adventure no screenwriter would dare make up. August, 1961: Disgusted by his country's increas… (more)

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