Billed as a comedy/drama I didn’t really find much to laugh about in this German film. Whether this was down to the drama overshadowing any comedy or simply because the comedy referenced German events that I didn’t get I’m not sure.
The film is set in East Germany in 1989, shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and centers around single mother Christiane (Katrin Sass) and her two children Alex (Daniel Brühl) and Ariane (Maria Simon). Raising the two children alone after her husband defects to West Germany Christiane is passionate Socialist who, after witnessing Alex being arrested for participating in a protest march, suffers a heart attack and falls into a coma for 8 months. During this period East Germany undergoes radical changes with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the influx of western culture into the previously insular country. After Christiane awakes from her coma the doctors inform Alex that any sort of shock may lead to another heart attack and, feeling that these changes may be detrimental to his mothers health, Alex resolves to keep this from her.
Alex moves his mother back home and, with the help of his family, neighbours, and friends, they pretend that nothing has changed within the 4 walls of their flat whilst outside East Germany begins to welcome western ideals and businesses – Ariane gets a job working at Burger King and becomes involved with a West German whilst Alex gets a job installing satellite tv. At home the family dress in typically East German clothing and, with the help of his friend Denis, Alex puts together false news stories and television shows in order to keep the illusion alive whilst hunting for East German goods that are proving increasingly difficult to find.
Ultimately the story is one of a boy who loves his mother and will do anything to protect her and is loosely based on the last few years of Lenin’s life where it was deemed that over-excitement might cause him health problems so he was kept in a controlled environment whilst Stalin had special newspapers printed for him editing any news about the political struggles of the time. The film touches on the unification of Germany without going in to much detail of the experiences of the East German people which is a shame as some of the films most poignant scenes involve this especially when Alex goes grocery shopping only to discover that the shelves are bare, later to be replaced by western versions of the same foods forcing Alex to decant the contents into East German packaging in order to maintain the charade. The film itself is beautifully shot, written, and acted and ultimately deserving of the many awards it won.