Season Four of Hidden Flick – our look at underrated films from a variety of periods and genres – kicks off in just two short weeks. On April 27, Randy Ray will be back to fill you in the best movies you may not have heard of that would make wonderful additions to your NetFlix queue. Since Roger Waters just announced the dates for his tour in which he’ll be performing The Wall in its entirety, we bring you a Wall-themed Hidden Flick column from 2009…
[Originally Published: September 1, 2009]
This fall marks the 30th anniversary of The Wall, Pink Floyd’s landmark album of loss, depression, and, ultimately, total isolation from reality. The seminal work featured Roger Waters at his zenith as a conceptual artist and also, sadly and inevitably, brought an end to the band, lumbering on for just one more album, The Final Cut, with their leader.
Of course the Floyd continued on without Waters, but that is an old story for another time, and one that was rather appropriately amended by the Live 8 reunion in 2005 of the classic quartet one last time before Richard Wright’s passing on September 15, 2008.
Alas, this column is not completely about Waters, Gilmour, Mason, Wright, and Floyd, nor their fictional wall for that matter. This week’s Hidden Flick is really about a 2001 German film called Der Tunnel, and it is based on a true story about those that constructed a tunnel underneath the wall separating a divided Germany so citizens could escape from the Soviet regime governing the East. It is also about what it’s like to be an existentialist who hasn’t faced such horrors, and yet one still feels the deep pain within.
READ ON for more on this week’s Hidden Flick…
The film was directed by Roland Suso Richter, stars Heino Ferch, and a cast of German all-stars in what was a nearly 3-hour television production that did so well that it was exported to foreign countries as a 157-minute feature. The version I saw was 2 hours and 47 minutes, and if it was missing any footage, I didn’t notice any significant omissions.
What I did notice was that the film showed what one must do if separated from friends and family, and what price one will pay to get them home free. Literally, in this case, a group of courageous souls dug a tunnel underneath democratic West Germany and into communist-controlled East Germany. What is it like to be locked into one’s country? What is it like to be free on one side of a wall, and kept under a watchful eye on another side? What will one do if separated from a loved one? How long will one work to find that solution? How long will one dig that tunnel? How to describe a film about human conduct that is so noble in the face of such undignified tyranny? To dig, or not to dig?
Indeed, it is that digging—terminal, endless, eternal digging—which the men and women do until they reach the floor of a room in East Germany. The rest of their work is just a way to respond to all of those maddening questions mentioned above like some useless philosophical discussion. The hidden knowledge of their secretive digging underlines profound moments filled with dreaded anxiety that anyone who has not been in that situation cannot truly explain. But the film does a damn good job of putting the viewer in those beleaguered citizens’ shoes for just a brief spell so one can feel the cold breath of a claustrophobic government, and the great pull of freedom which makes us all human.
Choosing instead to acknowledge the walls that we place around ourselves from within (Roger Waters masterpiece that he recorded with Pink Floyd on The Wall), and the walls which we find in a very externalized and physical way (the Berlin Wall fictionalized yet brought back to life in Roland Suso Richter’s sublime Der Tunnel), one continues to struggle understanding oppressive overlords that make it difficult to co-exist with those that have a different point of view. I find myself struggling with a loss for the right word.
Ahh…but imagery flashes back to mind, replacing that temporary void with pure magic.
There is a great montage sequence in the film written by Johannes W. Betz, and expertly framed by both Richter and his cinematographer Martin Langer, which segues from a man’s senseless murder to an erotic sexual scene to a sudden suicide attempt that covers so much emotional, cathartic, and gut-wrenching ground in its three-segued scenes that one wonders what else is left but escape, always escape from it all, escape at any cost.
I have never faced such a loss of freedom, such a need to literally dig underneath a problem to solve another, to search for the truth when all around me is walled up and kept under lock and key and machine gun. I can only wish that one can find hope in a work of fiction, no matter how much it resembles someone else’s real existence. With nothing else to think, but the path pursued bereft of isolation, and the desire to refrain from constructing a wall to keep the enemies at bay, one lumbers on. Searching for those surreal yet sane places in between, outside the wall, where we can all meet and find some common ground, one lumbers on to find a new form of peace in a hostile world.