Weeks after Amazon Prime’s release of Tom Harper’s The Aeronauts comes another film whose plot hinges on a hot air balloon ride, though with a few crucial differences. Unlike the meteorological pursuits of Harper’s heroes, the families in Michael Bully Herbig’s Balloon aim to get over the border separating West Germany from the German Democratic Republic. At least half of The Aeronauts took place in said balloon, while Herbig’s title is somewhat misleading, as we only get to soar early on in the proceedings, and a little towards the end.
Worry not, though: Herbig keeps things moving even when his characters are on the ground, ensuring we’re with them every step of the way on their breathless journey to redemption. Yes, it’s all somewhat schematic and messy, a glossy portrait of tumultuous times. It’s also quite entertaining, anchored by solid performances, and a contagiously well-meaning spirit.
“The Strelzyks…plan to fly over the East-German border in a homemade hot air balloon.”
Balloon follows the journey of an East-German family, one of the thousands who have attempted to flee to the West between 1976 and 1988. “At least 462 men, women, and children lost their lives at the border,” the title card proclaims. “They were branded as traitors by the GDR regime.” After that somber introduction, along with a few establishing shots of citizens being treated like lab rats, the film delves right into its plot.
The Strelzyks, Peter (Friedrich Mücke), Doris (Karoline Schuch), along with their sons Fitscher (Tilman Döbler) and Frank (Jonas Holdenrieder), plan to fly over the East-German border in a homemade hot air balloon. Their friends Günter and Petra Wetzel (David Kross and Alicia von Rittberg) are hesitant at the last minute, despite having hatched the entire plan. “Trust me, Peter,” Günter says. “That thing won’t hold us all.” So the Strelzyks decide to embark on this adventure on their own. Alas, their attempt fails, and they have to return home.