Scott Hardie: “It ruled.”

A young man's painful devotion to his brain-damaged mother fuels a begrudging love for his failed Communist homeland in this quirky drama that reminds you of the infant laboratory monkeys that preferred the cloth mommy over the wire mommy in spite of their real physical needs. It's an illustration of the power of denial as comfort, both for the deluded mother that the Berlin Wall still stands, and for the boy that this frail, confused person who came home after her coma is not a new person worthy of acquaintance but still the same mother who raised him and loved him (albeit inadequately). Their story plays against the death of East Germany, a country founded on lies and pretense, an empty vessel into which its devotees like this mother could pour their affection in a transmutation of their regret and sorrow. We always lie the most to the ones we love.

This isn't an entirely gloomy film; I'm dwelling on its more depressing elements. Billed semi-reasonably as a comedy in its promotional materials, it does contain the clever schemes the son will devise to make his mother believe East Germany lives on, and the resultant comedic payoffs. There's also a wealth of interesting supporting characters here, from a biological father with an unexpected kindness, to a celebrity-of-the-state who agrees to do one final act in service of his deceased homeland. The actors are all capable, rising above a few weaknesses in the script; Chulpan Khamatova does a good job of seeming necessary as the girlfriend long after the screenplay should have her dump the hero and move on with her life. The cast is led capably by Daniel Brühl as the son, a young actor who possesses Tobey Maguire's same blend of wounded innocence and clever mischievousness. This film may bore those devoid of interest in recent history, but for anyone else it's all but guaranteed to inspire thought on the ways that love of country and love of family can supplant one another, and it has a gentle way of bringing fond memories to anyone who has ever had a mother or been a son.

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