Director Wolfgang Becker
Writer Wolfgang Becker, Bernd Lichtenberg
Stars Daniel Bruhl, Kathrin Sass, Maria Simon, Chulpan Khamatova, Florian Lukas, Alexander Beyer
Running time 121 minutes
Reviewed by The Wolf
Beneath a concept of protecting the defenceless from political reality lies the emotional trauma of coping with loss and betrayal. For fear of sounding so boring you want to eat your socks, let it be said at once that Wolfgang Becker's film oozes charm.
This is the kind of thing that commentators like to call a modern fable. When Alexander's father escapes to West Berlin, during the last years of the GDR, his mother (Kathrin Sass) cracks up and refuses to speak for months, indicating the first stages of denial.
When she starts talking again, she lets it be known that her husband has deserted the family and run off with a younger woman. She throws herself into political activity and becomes almost fanatical in her support of Communist ideals, ignoring the corruption, beaurocratic authoritarianism and abuses of the secret police.
During a demo, involving students and pro-democracy marchers, which she stumbles upon while walking home one evening, she witnesses Alexander being beaten up by riot police and bundled into a van. The experience is so unexpected and shocking that she has a heart attack in the street.
For eight months, she lies in a coma, during which time the Berlin Wall is demolished, the government collapses, capitalism takes root and freedom of expression is restored. When she regains consciousness and is brought back to her apartment, Alexander fakes everything to make it look as if nothing has happened, for fear that reality might kill her.
It is a beautiful thought, a son's concern for his mother. The elaborate subterfuge is often ingenious, but not enough to sustain an entire movie. What adds to the comic thrust is an exploration of the meaning of change, how the family responds to the father's apparent desertion and how this nation, once known as East Germany, comes to terms with the cost, both emotional and practical, of freedom.
The performance of Daniel Bruhl, as Alexander, is modestly presented, although immensely attractive. The script relies too heavily, perhaps, on voice-over narration, but then regime change is an enormous subject, the lessons of which are seldom heede