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Last Updated: Monday, 1 December, 2003, 08:14 GMT
German film touched by hand of God
By John Sinnott

Germany's 1954 captain Fritz Walter with the Jules Rimet trophy
Germany's 1954 captain Fritz Walter with the Jules Rimet trophy
Think football film and Escape to Victory is the abiding image of a cinematic genre which has consistently bombed at the box office.

But a new film about Germany's World Cup victory over Hungary in 1954 offers hope for football fans yearning for a realistic recreation of the game's finer points on the big screen.

In making the The Miracle of Bern (Das Wunder von Bern) German director Soenke Wortmann has been touched by the hand of God.

The film has been a runaway success in Germany and reduced German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder to tears.

The 7.5m euro (5.2m) movie, which opened the Sixth German Film Festival, also won the audience prize at the Locarno Film Festival in August.

Germany's victory on 4 July 1954 was one of the great World Cup surprises, particularly as coach Sepp Herberger's side had been beaten by Hungary 8-3 earlier in the finals.

We should never forget what happened during World War Two
"The Miracle of Bern" director Soenke Wortmann

Aided by torrential rain that disrupted Hungary's passing game, Germany came from two goals behind to beat the Magical Magyars 3-2, a side that had not lost a game in nearly five years.

"The victory of the German football team against Hungary was a major post-war event for our country," Wortmann told BBC Sport.

"It was vital for the people who lived in Germany at that time. Everybody who is older than 60 knows exactly where they were on 4 July in 1954.

"That feeling only happened again when the Berlin Wall came down."

Wortmann, who played for a German lower-league club until he was 21, has spent the last 10 years working on the film.

He agonised over his cast, particularly the footballing parts, finally opting for footballers who could act, rather than actors who would might struggle juggling a football.

The scorer of the 1954 final's winning goal - Helmut Rahn - is played by Sascha Goepel, who like Germany's match winner played for German club Rot-Weiss Essen, before hanging up his boots and going to acting school.

"Everyone in Europe knows how a footballer moves and kicks the ball," said Wortmann.

"I see the cast as real footballers rather than actors and I think that's why the film has been so well received.

"I went all over Germany - I felt like Herberger travelling through the country looking at football games.

"I looked at over 1,500 actors, narrowing it down to 80 for a training camp and then picking the final 22."

Much like Eric Cantona, Herberger was noted for his aphorisms - "The ball is round and the game lasts 90 minutes" and in film the German coach provides many of the movie's comic touches.

Soenke Wortmann's award-winning film
Scene from "The Miracle of Bern"
But football is only part of "The Miracle of Bern's" appeal.

Running in parallel to Germany's World Cup victory is the story of 11-year-old boy Matthias, who hero worships Rahn.

Just as Rahn leaves for Switzerland for the finals, Matthias' father returns home after 11 years as a prisoner of war in the Soviet Union.

Scarred by his experiences of the Russian front and then imprisonment in Siberia, Matthias' father is incapable of adjusting to life back in Germany.

At one point Matthias is reduced to tears, prompting the father to slap the boy, as he says "German boys don't cry".

Father and son are reconciled by a road trip to Bern, which allows Matthias to witness Germany's World Cup triumph.

"We should never forget what happened during World War Two," said Wortmann.

"But we should be also proud of what has happened since 1945, in that Germany has a very stable democracy.

"I always felt I was walking on thin ice. German film makers have never used the national anthem in their films before. I thought the press might make a fuss of that.

"What I'm trying to do is tell a story about a team that was really great. There is a pride between the lines in the story and that's really okay to celebrate."

The sixth London Germany Film Festival runs until the 4 December.

Das Wunder von Bern director Soenke Wortmann
"Anyone old enough knows exactly where they were on that day"

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