One of the cornerstone moments in world history, at least during my upbringing, was the Fall of the Berlin Wall, and subsequently the Eastern Bloc. It was one of the first significant moments I was witness to on live television (and one of the early coups of the 24-hour-news network). As a child I understood its significance but its oncoming always seemed a bit of a mystery. What lead up to it all. Later, I would learn that it was nearly as sudden as it seemed.
It’s with such a youthful kind of eye that Mission: Sputnik tells its tale about children in the waining days of the Berlin Wall’s dividing Germany. The two keys to its success are the whimsy with which the tale is conveyed and the cloistered nature of the central characters; siphoning them from the adult/outside world allows them to believe more wondrous things are happening than actually are.
What this all alludes to is the mission that Frederike (Flora Thiemann) embarks on when her uncle Mike (Jacob Matschenz) is expelled from the GDR. She decides to amp up her experiments with teleportation to bring him back home with the help of her friends, with the backdrop of the Stasi cracking down on her hometown leading up to the town festival, which coincidentally falls on November 9th, 1989.
These experiments are inspired by an East German sci-fi show the kids watch, and allows a great balance in this film between childlike belief and innocence and perception. Another balancing act that occurs is between the comedic, fanciful aspect and the more dramatic moments with regards to fleeing East Berlin and the consequences of staying in town.
While there are clearly tropes at play here in this film it’s how they’re implemented here and what they play up against that make a majority of the difference between this film and standard family fare is made. Clearly, any film stretching the limits (at least a bit) of suspension of disbelief not only needs the proper touches in scoring, the editing room and direction, but also needs standouts in the cast. You get that here with the parents Yvonne Catterfeld and Maxim Mehmet and the kids Thiemann, Finn Fiebig, Luca Johanssen and Emil von Schönfels.
Another testament to this film is that despite the running time being brisk, coming in under 90 minutes, it does not feel too short or contradictorily languid. Its pacing is right on the money. This allows the film to be quick and enjoyable while the treatment and themes elevate it, giving it substance and fancy.
More often than not it is in our fictions that our histories live. Our fictions do not define our histories but they do pass them on and begin the discussions with future generations. The children playing the central characters in this film were likely not born in the 20th century, but are conveying a tale set against the fall of the Berlin Wall to their generation, and perhaps future ones. It’s a film worthy of starting the discussion because of how it treats the subject with a childish gaze of half-understanding through a maelstrom of oncoming sociopolitical upheaval.