The ZFF 2018 saw a lot of films based on true events. Sowgandhika Krishnan reviews two of them that stood out for her: the German film ‘Ballon/Balloon’ and the much hyped ‘First Man’.


Poster of Ballon MovieDirected by Micheal Herbig, one of the most successful German filmmakers, this German film, about the escape of two families from East Germany in 1979, is an attention grabber from the start. The director referenced 2000 pages of secret files for the making of the movie. Set at a time when trying to escape to West Germany meant facing barbed wires, landmines and spring-guns, the two families (Wetzel and Strelzyk) decide to escape to the other side in a hot air balloon. They fail in their attempt by a few hundred meters. However the discovery of the balloon and other equipment sets the Stasi (East German secret police) into action. The families fear being discovered but continue to work on making another hot air balloon. The risk of being caught at nearly every step in their attempt adds to the tension. The mood of the film is grim and the actors maintain the tension all through to the end. The families finally succeed and use close to 1250 sq. meters of cloth for the hot air balloon which they buy in bits and pieces to avoid being detected.

From 1961 to 1988, around 75,000 East Germans were jailed for attempting to flee to West Germany, while more than 800 men, women and children lost their lives at the border. That makes this escape one of its kind and the film brilliantly bring out the politics, the emotions and the fear associated with the escape operation.

Watching this escape on screen in the present day makes one feel a bit strange. When you are in Berlin and the taxi driver tells you, “from this point onwards is what used to be East Berlin”, while driving on a perfectly ordinary road, you wonder about the lives that have been lost crossing that road, all in the quest for a better life! A road that you now drive so freely upon! As Micheal Herbig says in one of his interviews “We take freedom for granted.”

This movie is a must watch.


Poster of First Man MovieFrom the ‘La La Land’ team of Damien Chazelle and Ryan Gosling comes this movie based on the book ‘First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong’ by James Hansen. Tracing Armstrong’s life from 1961 to the landing on the moon in 1969, the film portrays the emotional side of the man.

Grounded over concerns of being distracted due to his two-and-a-half year old daughter Karen’s illness, Armstrong loses his daughter to brain tumor despite his best efforts. A distraught Armstrong takes up work on Project Gemini with the vengeance of a man trying to take his mind off his loss.

Gemini 8 faces issues and Armstrong faces a lot of criticism. Amidst growing concerns about the huge amounts of public money being spent on failing space missions, Armstrong is selected to represent NASA at the White House. While he fends off the most difficult questions and criticisms thrown at him with confidence, news of the Apollo 1 crew being killed during launch rehearsal trickles in. After nearly losing his life the very next year during a landing vehicle test, Armstrong is selected to command Apollo 11 on its mission to the moon which he undertakes successfully.

Armstrong comes across as a man who strongly believes in the benefits a space mission has to offer, though he sees his colleagues die at work and is fully aware of the fact that his own death is possibly just a mission/test away. His discomfort while explaining to his two sons that he may not return alive from the moon mission is very endearing. So is the part where he drops his daughter’s bracelet in the Little West Crater on the moon. It is as if the moon mission was something he did for his little girl.

The take off and landing of the spaceships are presented from the astronaut’s point of view. The movie is a tad long and slow moving in places as it chronicles the events in detail. Ryan Gosling is brilliant as the astronaut who prefers to keep the most extreme emotions to himself, maintains a calm exterior but constantly suffers and broods over them in private. You walk out of the theatre with respect for the ‘man’ behind the public persona.

This movie is definitely worth a watch.

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