This study traces shared national narratives about women, work, and precarity in films made by East German women directors in the state-run DEFA studios before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall. A comparative analysis of Evelyn Schmidt’s Das Fahrrad (The Bicycle, 1982) and Helke Misselwitz’s Herzsprung (1992) reveals parallels in how late socialist and emerging capitalist systems produce, perceive, and gender socioeconomic instability. By rendering visible the struggles of unskilled single mothers for autonomy and fulfillment in environments marked by apathy and disdain, Das Fahrrad and Herzsprung challenge the reigning narrative of not only neoliberal but also socialist citizenship: that hard work will be rewarded. The dream of the good life remains unattainable in both films. An investigation of continuities in their aesthetic sensibilities and social thematics and in how they cast their female heroines, when coupled with consideration for each director’s biographical experiences across shifting political systems, troubles the prevalent perception of neoliberal discourses as intrinsically linked to capitalist systems and thus as anathema to socialist ideologies. Both films expose the possibilities for and limitations of women’s emancipation and empowerment in pre-and postunification Germany, intertwining gender critiques with explorations of agency, self-determination, and social justice. When refracted through the lens of late socialist and early postsocialist cinema by and about women, a critical nexus of labor, gender, and precarity is forged for examining neoliberal citizenship.

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