For a film about the fall of the Berlin Wall, there sure are a lot of laughs in Wolfgang Becker’s surprising fourth feature. That he is able to deliver a film as intelligent and ultimately heartwarming based on such a seemingly contrived plot is a true testament of his ability as a director. Alex’s mother Christiane (Katrin Sab) has a heart attack and falls into a coma shortly before the fall of the Berlin wall. A socialist enthusiast since her husband defected to the West when Alex (Daniel Bruhl) was a child, Alex feels very protective of his mother. So when mom miraculously emerges from her coma eight months later and the doctor explains that any surprises could be fatal to her, Alex decides that the best strategy is to pretend that the Wall never fell.
Although the results are not nearly as slapstick as one might expect, there is still a feeling of surreality to plot which both heightens the comedy and underlines the basic absurdities of any strict political system. Most of the political observations are based on how politics affect day to day life: what kinds of food are available, what kind of clothes you wear, how families are divided. This is made particularly clear in the way that Alex’s treasure hunt for old jars and labels of socialist food in which to repackage the new cornucopia of Western delights that fill the store shelves (so as not to pique his mother’s curiosity) turns into an epic quest.
But that’s as strong as the political commentaries get, director Wolfgang Becker preferring to focus specifically on the Kerner family and the changes they undergo. Both Alex and his sister Ariane (Maria Simon) are nurturing new found romances in the midst of all this deception, Alex with a pretty student nurse from Russia named Lara (Chulpan Khamatova) and Ariane with her Western boss at her new job working at Burger King, Rainer (Alexander Beyer). Both of these relationships would be considered nontraditional, however they are presented as loving and supportive without the need of a “payoff” (i.e. marriage or a proposal of marriage) to validate them. Becker instead uses their compliance with Alex’s bizarre scheme as proof of their commitment to the Kerner family as they also acknowledge that his deception is driven by his deep love for his mother.
Also embroiled in this plot are Alex’s coworker Denis (Florian Lukas), a would be filmmaker who’s deadpan delivery during the fake socialist news reports they create add to the innate silliness of the entire proceedings; and the elderly residents of the apartment complex where the Kerner’s live. For them the elaborate game of make believe is a kind of solace from the real world where the system that had promised to care for them for the rest of their life has vanished.
One might think that it is odd that a film based on such a loaded historical event would be so warm and comforting, but in presenting a rewritten version of history Becker is able focus on what ultimately keeps us going in times of political uncertainty: family, love and togetherness.