The Miracle of Bern

(Das Wunder von Bern, Sönke Wortmann, Germany, 2003)


This film marked a return for Germany to international box office success. Fittingly, its subject is another great moment of national breakthrough: the 1954 World Cup.

Sönke Wortmann's The Miracle of Bern begins like a shameless compendium of tropes from various sentimental, feel-good European flicks of the past two decades. In the depressed mining town of Ruhr, a doe-eyed young boy, Matthias (Louis Klamroth), dreams of accompanying his football hero, Helmut Rahn (Sascha Gopel), to the play-offs in Switzerland. The setting recalls Billy Elliot (2000), while the sweeping orchestral score veers evokes Cinema Paradiso (1989).

However, Matthias has to cope with another, more pressing problem. His father, Richard (Peter Lohmeyer), has returned from eleven years as a prisoner of war in Russia. Richard is a grim, broken soul, and he greets his son at the train station with startled incomprehension – never having received the news of the birth. Matthias' older brother and sister find the family reunion no more comforting.

The film alternates between the football team's progress in Bern, and the family's crisis at home. Mediating the two stories is Paul (Lukas Gregorowicz), a young journalist who gets his big break covering the games. He stands both for the age of mass media (radio and television uniting people all over Germany) and modern, enlightened marriage: his feisty, perky wife, Annette (Katharina Wackernagel), demands to be part of the action.

Wortmann rather overloads the significance of his subject. Germany's World Cup win is associated the post-war recovery of national dignity, with the burgeoning Economic Miracle, with a baby boom, and with the emancipation of women.

Above all, this sports triumph is portrayed in terms of masculine identity: Richard regains his paternal authority and reconnects with Matthias, while the team's coach, Herberger (Péter Franke), is a model of tough but loving leadership. And all this comes wrapped in a message of sensitivity: "German boys can cry once in a while".

Still, it would be hard for anyone to hold back the tears once The Miracle of Bern reaches its exciting recreation of the final, heart-stopping minutes of the big game.

MORE Wortmann: The Most Desired Man

© Adrian Martin July 2005

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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