The Tunelas reviewed in the Phantom TollboothPlenty tunnelled out, but one group tried to tunnel back in. This different kind of 'Left Behind' drama follows their audacious plan.

Time: 160 mins, no extras
Region 2

Many hundreds risked their lives to flee from East Berlin after the wall was built in 1961. This film traces the dreams of one dedicated group who tunnelled back in after their escapes to try to rescue family and friends who were left behind.

East German swimming champion Harry Melchior (Heino Fersch), a character based on the real life Hasso Herschel, is no great friend of the East German authorities and has spent four tough years in prison. Just as work starts on building the wall, he announces that he is retiring from the sport, so that they cannot use him for PR. Sensing that he has pushed them too far, he knows he has to get out within days, but before he leaves, his sister Lotte makes him promise to get her out when her daughter is old enough.

Harry’s friend Mathis (Sebastian Koch) is an engineer separated from his wife Carola (Claudia Michelsen) as they tried to escape through the sewers the night after the border was closed. The two men find a base from which they can dig back into the East. Soon they realise that the project is too big for them and they gain other helpers who want to be re-united with those they love.

But if the logistics of digging so far without arousing suspicion is difficult, the human factor proves even more so. The tunnellers cannot be sure that all those who work with them are trustworthy; neither can they get messages to the East without alerting their nemesis, Colonel Kruger (Uwe Kockisch) of the Department for Illegal Immigration. Lotte also finds it hard to persuade her husband to leave.

As the gap in the ground grows longer, the story embraces love, loss, death, blackmail and betrayal. The authorities learn the date of the planned escape and alert all their forces, but Harry’s team risks a hard-won, new-found freedom trying to rescue others. The heart of the film is a hole-lot of self-sacrifice, worked out with physical effort and emotional stamina.

Originally a German TV drama, this version loses twenty minutes and a further twenty could have been spent on the reality of life behind the Brandenburg Gate, but the length does not detract from the tension that remains throughout.

This is one of those films whose extra-ordinary plot seems embellished for the screen, but the involvement of an NBC film crew to sponsor the dig was part of the real story. It is the factual core that gives this movie its extra fascination, as we know that real lives are at stake. We see enough of the characters to care about them and this one has the viewer caring to the end.

Derek Walker