A slickly packaged, invigorating crowd-pleaser centered on a postwar German family and a sports reporter at the time their county won soccer's World Cup, "The Miracle of Bern" doesn't require knowledge of or interest in the game to connect emotionally with spectators. Pic deserves a shot at wider distribution beyond Teutonic territories.

A slickly packaged, invigorating crowd-pleaser centered on a postwar German family and a sports reporter at the time their county won soccer’s World Cup, “The Miracle of Bern” doesn’t require knowledge of or interest in the game to connect emotionally with spectators. Winner of the Audience Award at the Locarno fest, where it world preemed to a cheering crowd of more than 6,000 at its Piazza Grande screening, pic deserves a shot at wider distribution beyond Teutonic territories in the hands of devoted distribs, especially in Europe.

Title, which could be changed for offshore release, refers to one of the two prime events in the German consciousness during the second half of the 20th century. (The other was the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.) Brought to their knees by WWII — and essentially citizens of an occupied country existing on foreign aid — Germans rediscovered a measure of self-respect July 4, 1954, when they won the World Cup in Bern, Switzerland. The beginning of the postwar German Economic Miracle is also popularly traced to that date.

Though he’s been absent from the scene for several years, helmer Soenke Wortmann was a leading light in the commercial renaissance of Teutonic filming during the ’90s, with the gay-themed comedy “Der bewegte Mann” (“Maybe … Maybe Not” in U.S.) establishing his rep with a massive 6.5 million admissions on home turf alone. His college-based comedy-drama “The Campus” proved the German film industry could come up with pics as well-tooled as anything from Hollywood, and only the disappointing B.O. of Wortmann’s ambitious “St. Pauli Nacht” signaled a pause in his local career.

“Miracle” shows Wortmann returning at the top of his game, immediately sweeping the viewer up in the story with confident direction, bigscreen values (aided by Marcel Barsotti’s symphonic score) and detailed, subtle visual design.

Film has three distinct “looks,” established by d.p. Tom Faehrmann’s color grading and production and costume design by Uli Hanisch and Ursula Welter: Drab grays and blues rep the family’s Ruhr Valley mining roots; sharp, pristine lensing signifies the Munich sports reporter’s middle-class 1950s house; and a picture-postcard, pastel look connotes the Swiss sections.

Working class family living near Essen has had no news of their father, captured by the Soviets in WWII. Mom Christa Lubanski (Johanna Gastdorf) has been building up a bar-bistro business, helped by daughter Ingrid (Birthe Wolter), but 11-year-old Matthias (Louis Klamroth) is interested only in soccer. When the father, Richard (Peter Lohmeyer) is sent home by the Soviets, he wants to return to his old job in the mines and re-establish traditionally strict German discipline in the household. Richard initially disapproves of Matthias’ interest in soccer.

Parallel to all this is the story of young Munich sports journo Paul Ackermann (Lucas Gregorowicz), who’s just married ultra-middle class belle Annette (Katharina Wackernagel) but finds himself assigned to cover the World Cup in Switzerland. Airhead Annette, who doesn’t know a football from a basketball, insists on tagging along.

Though the script conveniently juggles Germany’s actual World Cup progress, and gets its Swiss geography a bit wrong near the end, the picture works mainly on an emotional level through the characters. (Soccer sequences in Bern’s recently demolished Wankdorf Stadium, reconstructed with CG help, are visceral rather than tactical.)

Also, in spite of the bleak Ruhr setting and the father’s family strictures, the overall tone of the movie is upbeat, peppered with amiable jokes at the expense of both Germans and Swiss as well as ’50s middle-class values and even the commentating style of radio reporters of the time. Though the fine points of these will be appreciated more by German viewers, the humor is universal enough to work offshore.

Performances are aces down the line, with veteran Lohmeyer bringing an ascetic gravitas to the role of the father, and Gregorowicz and Wackernagel brilliantly evoking a postwar generation with hope (and bedroom fittings) in their eyes.

Well-constructed script stumbles only in the coda, with an emotional scene for the father (and a final onscreen caption) that are unnecessary. Production values, on a $7 million budget, are top-drawer.

The Miracle of Bern

Germany

Production

A Senator release of a Little Shark Entertainment, Senator Film Produktion production, in association with SevenPictures, with participation of Das Werk. (International sales: Bavaria Film Intl., Munich.) Produced by Tom Spiess, Soenke Wortmann, Hanno Huth. Co-producers, Benjamin Herrmann, Stefan Gaertner, Alicia Remirez. Directed by Soenke Wortmann. Screenplay, Wortmann, Rochus Hahn.

Crew

Camera (color), Tom Faehrmann; editor, Ueli Christen; music, Marcel Barsotti; production designer, Uli Hanisch; costume designer, Ursula Welter; sound (Dolby SRD), Arno Wilms, Matthias Lempert; sound designer, Dirk W. Jacob; visual effects-color grading, Faehrmann; assistant director, Wolfgang Groos; casting, Anja Dihrberg. Reviewed at Locarno Film Festival (Piazza Grande), Aug. 10, 2003. (Also in Montreal World Film Festival -- noncompeting.) Running time: 118 MIN.

With

Louis Klamroth, Peter Lohmeyer, Johanna Gastdorf, Mirko Lang, Birthe Wolter, Katharina Wackernagel, Lucas Gregorowicz, Peter Franke, Sascha Goepel, Knut Hartwig.

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