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Filmfest DC

'The Miracle of Bern': Soccer With a Familiar Kick

By Peter Kaufman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 18, 2005; Page C08

It starts with an intriguing glimpse of life in depressed postwar West Germany, but "The Miracle of Bern" eventually sails straight into the bin marked "inspirational upset victory by plucky sports team." Although competently directed and acted, this 2003 film adds little to the "Rocky" canon.

Released after more than a decade as a Russian prisoner of war, Richard Lubanski (Peter Lohmeyer) returns to his family in Essen, a Ruhr-region industrial city that is portrayed, circa 1954, as shabby and dispirited. Lubanski, embittered by his captivity, quickly alienates his wife and three children -- most notably the youngest, Matthias, an 11-year-old soccer fanatic (Louis Klamroth, looking for all the world like a li'l John Updike). Matthias is swept up in the fortunes of the West German national team, which recruits an athlete from Essen -- an older pal of Matthias's -- as it heads for the World Cup championship in Switzerland. But Matthias's grouchy dad regards soccer as stuff and nonsense, setting the stage for paint-by-numbers conflict, reconciliation and Kleenex.

Katharina Wackernagel and Lucas Gregorowicz in the German film. (Little Shark Entertainment)

Some of the family scenes early on are unpretentiously eloquent. When Richard first catches sight of his family, he mistakes his grown daughter for his wife -- and we suddenly appreciate how long he has been away and what he has endured.

But the second half drifts away to focus on the soccer players and their improbable struggle to vanquish mighty Hungary. It's an obvious metaphor for the efforts of a defeated, mortified people to arise and take the world stage again, and it's handled with the usual bombastic sports slo-mo and a throbbing John Williamsesque score.

We saw pretty much this same film last year. It charted the United States hockey team's astounding 1980 Olympic victory over the Soviet Union. It, too, was called "Miracle." What moviegoers need are fewer miracles and more good works.

The Miracle of Bern (118 minutes, in German with English subtitles) will be shown tonight at 6:30 and Tuesday at 8:30 at the Avalon.

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