Screened as part of NZIFF 2002
Not afraid to get its hands dirty, this subterranean suspense thriller combines the gritty action and excitement of a daring rescue mission with an ensemble of complex characters and their very human reactions in a continually volatile situation. To add a further layer of conviction to the drama, the film is based on the true story of East German swimming champion Harry Melchior’s attempt to smuggle his sister and her family under the Wall from East to West Berlin.
Heroically true to his own self, Melchior (played by Heino Ferch, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Bruce Willis) becomes a marked man after he declines to become the propaganda poster boy for the East German übermensch. Successfully escaping to the West with a faked passport in August 1961, he proves his unshakeable loyalty to friends and family by planning an escape route for them – seven metres deep and 145 metres long. He’s joined by his friend Matthis, another escapee from the East, and the latter’s two friends, Fred and Italian-American Vic (Mehmet Kurtulus). The daunting project, on which they’re joined by the spunky Fritzi, ends up taking a year.
Excellent production values, impeccable period detail and a stirring score strengthen an already robust collection of performances – especially in the supporting storyline of a troubled rock-and-hard-place relationship that can only be redeemed by personal sacrifice. With allies who turn into traitorous informants, the threat of tunnel collapse, flooding, unexpected concrete walls, and a totalitarian government only a whisper away, The Tunnel is fraught with physical, psychological and emotional challenges to keep the mission in constant jeopardy and the suspense levels in the red. — Matthew Donaldson