Formulaic Hollywood melodrama and heartfelt European humanism come together with surprising ease in the story of Alex (Daniel Bruhl), an East German youth who, in 1990, is faced with the most bizarre dilemma imaginable. His mother (Katrin Sass), a committed party loyalist and activist, has been in a coma for eight months... the eight most eventful months in postwar German history. She has literally slept through the disintegration of the Eastern bloc and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Impending German reunification, which most are celebrating as a joyous occasion, Alex treats with trepidation, fearing that the shock of such a radical world change could prove too much for his bedridden mother's fragile state. Until she is stronger, he sees only one solution--convincing her that nothing has changed. And so begins the arduous task of creating a Cold War world in microcosm, managing every detail in the apartment so that no sign of the real world ever manifests itself therein.
Charming as this concept may appear on the surface, pulling it off requires considerable skill on the part of the filmmakers and more than a little willing suspension of disbelief on the part of audiences. In fact, few of the contrivances actually work, but the film is so earnest and heartfelt that it's easy to simply give in to its conceits and overlook issues of plausibility. That Alex would seek out obsolete pickle jar labels, for instance, is manageable. That he would or could engineer the faking of entire television broadcasts verges on the absurd. And yet these scenes are among the film's most endearing, successful not because they are believable but because they represent the extremes to which Alex will go out of love for his mother.
There's no question that Becker and his co-writer, Bernd Lichtenberg, have made the film foremost for German audiences. The story and the concerns addressed within are uniquely theirs. At the same time, by following a classical Hollywood structure anchored in universal themes of family and belonging, they have succeeded at giving the film all the credentials it needs to secure broader appeal throughout the globe. One need not have a handle on surface historical or cultural specifics to appreciate the emotional honesty beneath. Starring Daniel Bruhl, Katrin Sass, Chulpan Khamatova, Maria Simon, Florian Lukas and Alexander Beyer. Directed by Wolfgang Becker. Written by Bernd Lichtenberg and Wolfgang Becker. Produced by Stefan Arndt. A Sony Pictures Classics release. Drama. German-language; subtitled. Not yet rated. Running time: 118 min