There’s a persistent note of inconsequential silliness to this film, set mostly in a scuzzy bar. It is written for the screen by the German novelist and dramatist Daniel Kehlmann and directed by its lead actor, Daniel Brühl, who features as an ironised version of himself, a self-involved movie star who is living the dream in a gorgeous modern apartment in Berlin with his partner and two young children.
One morning, Brühl, or “Brühl”, is heading off to London to do a casting session for a superhero movie which, though undoubtedly absurd, will clearly be very lucrative. But he realises he has set off too early, so he dismisses his driver and whiles away a few hours in a near-deserted pub, where a grumpy local, Bruno (Peter Kurth), happens to be slumped at the bar. Striking up conversation, Bruno disquietingly reveals that he knows a great deal about Brühl. He lambasts him about what he sees as the specious and naive quality of his breakthrough movie, Good Bye Lenin! from 2003, the one where Brühl plays a young guy whose earnestly communist East Berliner mother awakens from a coma not realising the wall has fallen, and her son has to protect her from the truth. That, jeers Bruno, is pure Wessi Romantik – western romanticism. (Is this Kehlmann speaking, actually?) Then he reveals that Brühl’s luxurious flat once belonged to his father, who was more or less evicted by an unscrupulous gentrifying developer, and furthermore makes it clear that he knows a great deal more about Brühl’s personal life because he is his neighbour in the grimly undeveloped block just over the way.
To some extent, this film is about the geopolitical implications of the gentrification that Berlin has experienced since 1989; it’s about the Berlin Wall of inequality that separates rich and poor. It’s also about celebrity and acting. (There’s a witty touch about how very good Brühl is at the mysterious actorly art of crying real tears.) The film skates over these ideas and lines of stagey dialogue rattle back and forth. It’s not a vanity project (Brühl does not seem in the least vain) but an actor’s project, nonetheless.