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DVD Review: The German Soccer Miracle of 1954
"Every child needs a father. Every man needs a dream. Every nation needs a legend."
Das Wunder von Bern
2003 Germany, 118 min, color
DIRECTOR: Sönke Wortmann
CAST: Louis Klamroth, Peter Lohmeyer, Johanna Gastdorf
GENRE: Historical Drama, Sports
In German with English/French/Spanish subtitles
U.S. theatrical release: none
DVD: Region 2, PAL (Germany)
NOTE: This is a review of a Region 2/PAL DVD.
See: How to Watch German Region 2 DVDs in the US
Sönke Wortmann, the German director who also made Der bewegte Mann/Maybe...Maybe Not (1994), has done a masterful job of bringing to life a long-forgotten period of German history. Das Wunder von Bern shows us the World Cup before FIFA, the world soccer federation, turned it into the gigantic advertising and sports marketing event that we saw in Germany in 2006. The film tells the story of the West Germans' come-from-behind win over the favored Hungarian team in a classic game played in Bern, Switzerland. The film also has a subplot that tells the story of the legendary German Fußball (soccer) coach Sepp Herberger and the 1954 team captain Helmut Rahn. But Wortmann's film is primarily a story about post-war West Germany and a father-son relationship.
In the 1950s, Germany, East and West, was still trying to recover from the devastating war that the Nazis had brought upon the country. Many German prisoners of war were still missing and had not returned from the Russian front. When 11-year-old Matthias's POW father Richard Lubanksi suddenly returns home to the industrial Ruhr region in the summer of 1954, it is a shock to the family in several ways. West Germany is just beginning the "economic miracle" that would reach its peak in the mid-1960s, and former miner Richard's long absence and wartime experiences make it difficult for him to adjust to his wife Christa's independence and the fact that she had successfully kept the family going while he was gone. At his railway station homecoming he even mistakes his daughter for his wife. His strict, military-like approach to discipline soon alienates him from his wife and children. Young soccer-loving Matthias is particularly crushed by his father's distain for something as unimportant and trivial as Fußball.
Director Wortmann and his script (co-written with Rochus Hahn) manage to pull at our heartstrings while giving us some history lessons. As you might expect, in the end it is the July 4th, 1954 World Cup in Switzerland that brings both the family and West Germany out of their depressed condition. Along the way the viewer learns what it was like to live in post-war Germany during the 1950s. It was a simpler time, but also a difficult time for many. By pulling off the soccer miracle of 1954, the West German team showed Germany and themselves that their potential was greater than they had once thought.
The camera work (Tom Fährmann) and production design (Uli Hanisch) authentically paint an image of the grimy industrial town where the Lubanksi family lives, but also the brighter, more colorful images of the life of sports reporter Paul Ackermann and the big game (before the rains). Some reviewers have criticized the film for putting more emphasis on the family's story than on the football story itself, and it's true that the movie shows very little actual soccer play until the big game at the end. But for many viewers that may be more positive than negative, and had the filmakers devoted more time to soccer, the film would have been much too long. This is a film about a famous soccer event, but it's not a play-by-play documentary of the 1954 World Cup. It's more about how that momentous event changed West Germany and a German family.
For dramatic and cinematic reasons Das Wunder von Bern doesn't always play by strict geographical or historical rules. For instance, a drive from Essen to Bern would not take you through high Alpine mountains, as shown in the movie. Some of the CGI special effects show the lack of a big budget, but the use of the original 1954 radio commentary by Herbert Zimmermann lends an authentic touch to that part of the film, and for the most part, the movie makes you feel like you're back in the 1950s.
In addition to the German soundtrack, the German Region 2/PAL DVD for this film offers both subtitles in English, French, or Spanish, and English-language audio. It also features German titles for the hearing-impaired (Deutsch für Hörgeschädigte). The DVD special features include an audio commentary (in German), trailers, and TV ads. North American viewers will need either a DVD-capable computer or a multi-region DVD player to view this Region 2/PAL DVD. A 2-disc special edition DVD version is also available in Germany and from Amazon.de, but this review is for the regular single-disc DVD version.