On television, gleeful Germans hack apart sections of the Berlin Wall, but alone in her modernist Munich home, novelist Hanna Flanders watches in horror; she grasps a handful of pills and contemplates suicide. So opens Oskar Roehler’s Nowhere to Go (1999), which tracks the mental breakdown of a West German writer whose soul collapses when her utopian konzept of the Marxist state—and the primary market for her leftist fiction—crumbles before her eyes. Roehler portrays Flanders (a fictionalized version of his mother) as a brittle bundle of contradictions: She caustically laments to a young reporter that “consumer society is eating us up,” yet stops by the Christian Dior boutique to purchase a new coat for a soul-searching trip to the East. There, she struggles to explain her sense of loss to the jubilant partyers, most of them drunk on more than just freedom. “German and history,” a schoolteacher-fan slurs to her, explaining his curriculum. “A fateful combination.”

A ruthless work of illuminating melancholia rooted in the legacy of New German Cinema (Flanders could have stepped out of a Fassbinder flick), Nowhere to Go screens in “After the Wall,” a collection of films from the last decade or so that explore the social changes effected by Germany’s reunification. A pair of mainstream comedies prove alienating in their own manner, at least to American moviegoers; while most of the humor disappears in cross-Atlantic transit, they remain at least sociologically interesting. Wolfgang Becker, best known for transforming post-reunification yuks into record-breaking box office with Goodbye, Lenin!, represents with Life Is All You Get, a quirky 1997 romantic comedy set in a still healing Berlin. Detlev Buck’s No More Mr. Nice Guy (1993), a low-rent Dumm und D, follows a pair of dim-witted Westie brothers on their quest through a newly opened East to claim an inheritance. En route, they discover mulleted highwaymen, sleazy rural businessmen, and all manner of outdated tracksuits: It’s like a German analogue of the American white-trash comedy, set to a score of outstandingly hideous synth-rock. ED HALTER

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