Escape to Victory. When Saturday Comes. Shaolin Soccer. The history of cinema is hardly littered with great movies about the beautiful game. And while The Miracle of Bern starts promisingly enough, this film about Germany's 1954 World Cup adventures is ultimately washed away in an ocean of sentimentality.
The first World Cup to be played in Europe after World War II, the 1954 competition is still heralded as being one of the finest. At least it is for the fatherless 11-year-old Matthias (Louis Klamroth), a youngster who has found passion and purpose in following his national team. His favourite player is Helmut Rahn (Sascha Gopel), who has noted the boy's presence and enjoys his adulation.
After being interned by the Soviets for a decade, Matthias' real father (Peter Lohmeyer) shows up out of the blue and carries a fair degree of self-loathing and resentment with him, which manifests itself in his deplorable treatment of his youngest child. So far, so interesting, but with the World Cup brewing in the background, it's only a matter of time before father and son find a happy medium in the shape of their love for the game.
An interesting film rather than a particularly good one, The Miracle of Bern falters due to the insistent saccharine tone employed by Wortmann. Displaying a Kevin Costner-like faith in the power of sports, Wortmann innocently portrays football as the redemptive force in the emerging state of West Germany. Almost inevitably, the interesting issues hinted earlier – fathers and sons, the national guilt regarding the war, the notion of honour - are never examined sufficiently, the director preferring to reach for another lump of sugar. Still, it looks well and despite the discrepancies in their characters, Lohmeyer and Klamroth, work well.