Balloon | Review
An Air Affair: Herbig Revisits GDR Getaway in Strait-laced Thriller
German director Michael Herbig, best known for his comedic films in his native country, makes his first international splash with period thriller Balloon, a 2018 title at last landing stateside two years after its premiere. Based on the true story of two East German families who flee to the West via a hot air balloon, Herbig is reclaiming a national escapade previously filmed by Delbert Mann (Marty, 1955) in 1982’s Night Crossing starring Beau Bridges and John Hurt. While Herbig doesn’t employ any surprising or lavish stylization to a rather straightforward rendering of the communist stranglehold on East Berlin, it’s an often taut and efficiently paced thriller intent on maximizing its potential, even if that means employing cliché to heighten suspense.
Compared to another recent hot air balloon expose, 2019’s The Aeronauts, Herbig’s reenactment is vibrant by default. But as concerns other German language titles revisiting the crushing omnipotence of the GDR, this is a long way off from something as significantly rendered as Christian Petzold’s Barbara (2012). Aptly shot by Torsten Breuer (We Are the Night, 2011), Balloon gets by on its intense performances thanks to leads Friedrich Mucke and Karoline Schuch, while more noted cast members David Kross (The Reader; War Horse) and the usually villainous Thomas Kretschmann, have little room for characterization.