The Foreign Film, Der Tunnel


Have you seen the 2001 foreign film, Der Tunnel? Based upon the true story of an East Berliner who dug a tunnel the length of a football field under the Berlin Wall, he fulfilled a promise to his sister who stayed behind with her husband and daughter. The national swimmer Harry Melchior had help. Others who were able to slip to the West side of Berlin agonized about loved ones left. These friends, joined by a common goal, articulated their stories within the subplots.


In the small group of five, some were strangers and others were well established friends. Harry Melchoir’s close friend, Matthis Hiller, was in a similar situation. The love his life was his wife who was pregnant and could not make the crossing from East to West Berlin when chased. Matthis Hiller and Melchoir had the same, strong motivation. Their parallel stories had different outcomes. An East Block official, whose job was to uncover the plots and various tunnels dug literally under his feet and blackmailed Matthis Hiller’s wife. Either tell him about the tunnel, or he would take the baby. The betrayal nearly destroyed the mission. The heartache suffered by the husband was excruciating to watch. Especially since the sister of Melchoir refused to tell the officials the whereabouts of the tunnel. She looked strong while the wife looked weak. How the men trusted their women made the plot interesting. The husband defended his wife’s loyalty even when all evidence said otherwise. When he acknowledged her infidelity, he was a broken man.


Another subplot revealed a lot about the stoic Melchoir–his unexpected love interest. Fritzi Scholtz was a petite, beautiful brunette whose strong and troubled life made her a very interesting character to watch. She joined the group to save her boyfriend, trapped on the East side. They exchanged love letters, and her devotion to him attracted Melchoir. They possessed matching passions, and their passionate work ethic to dig the tunnel turned into sexual tension. They needed a release from their immediate, subterranean world. A heart wrenching scene occurred when the boyfriend who tried to climb over the wall to get to Fritzie on the other side. The  high camera angle showed the two sides of the Berlin Wall. On one side of the cement, the boyfriend breathed erratically. On the other side, hugging the wall, Fritzie talked to him, cried to him. Melchoir was at her side and tried to intervene but of course, he could do nothing other than drag her away before she was shot. He took her to her apartment and their passion released the grief, desperation, pain, and resignation of their situation. It was a powerful scene about two powerful people in a powerful situation.


The strength of the film was the lack of dialogue. The power of body language.  What was inferred. Have you seen it?

I highly recommend it.

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