This heartwarming comedy actually has the weight of history behind it as the farcical plot parallels the momentous reunification of the two Germanys. It’s 1989, ten years after their father walked out on them, and now Alex (Daniel Bruhl) and his single-mum sister Ariane (Maria Simon) have to cope with the fact that their socialism-loving mother Christiane (Katrin Sass) is in a coma following a heart attack. During the next eight months, everything outside changes. The Berlin Wall is pulled down, the East German government is dismantled and capitalism invades from the West. So when mother wakes up, Alex and Ariane tell her that nothing’s changed, because they wouldn’t want to stress her heart with the truth. But it gets tricky to hide; Alex thinks on his feet and even gets a colleague (Florian Lukas) to make fake newscasts, but his new girlfriend (Chulpan Khamatova) is starting to get fed up with the lunacy.
This is a very clever film, as director-co-writer Wolfgang Becker intelligently and artistically uses the period and weaves the historic themes into a gently comic tale that takes us to this remarkable time and place. The characters are so well written and played that we immediately identify with them all–Alex’s frantic desperation to keep things the way they were, Ariane’s desire to move on with her Western boyfriend (the hilarious and underused Alexander Beyer) and a new job at Burger King, Christiane’s dawning realization that the world has changed while she was sleeping … and not just outside the family flat.
It does go on a bit in the middle, with perhaps 15 minutes too many of goofy antics and knowing jokes. But Becker has the skills to weave in a tender and somewhat complex romance, as well as some emotional moments that catch the back of our throats, especially when the issue of the long-lost father comes around again (as it must!). The nature of the truth in restoring relationships is very subtly woven in here, and it’s powerful stuff indeed.