#319 Good Bye Lenin!

(2003, Wolfgang Becker)

“The future lay in our hands. Uncertain, yet promising”

We’ve visited one previous movie about divided Germany before here on SvTM, the surprisingly good The Lives Of Others, but there haven’t been many others since then. Perhaps now it’s time to take a look at the effects of the regime on the ordinary citizens of East Germany, specifically when the Berlin Wall fell. Perhaps it’s time to say Good Bye Lenin!

The movie is set in 1989, where we focus on young East German citizen Alex Kerner. After he attends a protest rally in October, his mother Christiane (Katrin Sass) sees him and suffers a heart attack amidst the chaos. Due to delayed medical intervention as a result of the protests, Christiane falls into a coma, with no clear indication of when she’ll come out. During her eight-month coma, the Berlin Wall falls and the reunification of Germany begins.

However, when she comes out of her coma, the doctors inform Alex that the damage to her heart is serious, and any sudden shock could potentially bring on a fatal attack. Realising that the political upheaval going on around them could be exactly the kind of shock that could affect his staunchly socialist mother, he sets about trying to concoct an elaborate lie that the Wall never fell and Germany is still divided.

I came into Good Bye Lenin with absolutely no idea what to expect. I was a little concerned that it would be a chore of a movie that pondered long and hard about the implications of the political situation and laboured the point about how totalitarianism is totally a bad thing, dude. Imagine my surprise when it turned out to not be that at all. The Berlin Wall and reunification of Germany is an important backdrop for everything that happens here, but the movie isn’t actually about any of that.

Instead, this is a movie about family. It’s a drama that throws in humour at appropriate moments and focuses on the interactions between people. It’s essentially a character piece, and character pieces only work well when you have well-defined characters that feel like real people. Good news! That’s exactly what we have here. Alex is a charismatic character who’s a bit of a lazy, bumbling idiot but his heart’s in the right place, and he is so masterfully played by Brühl that he feels real from start to finish. The supporting cast is just as wonderfully crafted and acted, and as a result, it’s easy to get drawn into this world and feel like you’re looking into the life of a real family.

Plot-wise, the central plot is a little silly, with Alex and family going to crazy lengths to keep Christiane in the dark about the fall of East Germany. It could have been very easy to play this as a screwball comedy, with wacky hijinks at every turn and crazy lead characters that fall over lots, but it isn’t. Sure, it’s funny and it plays up the comedy whenever it can, but it does it intelligently and gently and in a way that keeps the movie feeling like reality.

In fact, this reality is the movie’s key strength. Just like life doesn’t care to stay happy or sad all the time, nor does the movie. Sad and happy themes intertwine constantly, and the mood shifts dramatically throughout. One minute we’re pondering mortality through Christiane’s difficult health situation and the next we’re laughing as a Coca-Cola banner goes up right outside her window, ready to betray all of Alex’s plans. These shifts in tone could have jarred horribly, but instead they play so well off each other that it feels difficult to imagine it done any other way.

There are also some delightful plot twists that are hard to see coming, and the movie winds its way to an ambiguous ending that nonetheless feels satisfactory. It’s an ending that doesn’t need to tell us anything, it leaves us appropriate trails for us to follow to put all the pieces together, and the movie ended leaving me feeling warm and fuzzy and yet simultaneously melancholy.

And that’s Good Bye Lenin for you. It’s a warm, human movie that focuses on the simple things in life even while an elaborate white lie unfolds. It’s a sweet, emotional movie that made me laugh and tear up in equal measure. It was a beautiful movie that surprised me greatly. More like this, please.

Starring Daniel Brühl, Katrin Saß, Chulpan Khamatova, Maria Simon & Alexander Beyer
Written by Wolfgang Becker & Bernd Lichtenberg
Produced by Stefan Arndt
Music by Yann Tiersen, Claire Pichet & Antonello Marafioti
Cinematography by Martin Kukula
Edited by Peter R. Adam

Favourite Scene: Probably the sudden appearance of the Coca-Cola logo at an inopportune moment.
Scene That Bugged Me: A scene where a doctor bashes Alex in the chest to simulate a heart attack…I think. It was an odd scene that didn’t really make sense.

Watch it if: You like human dramas with a touch of comedy
Avoid it if: You’re looking for a political drama about the fall of the Berlin Wall


Posted on October 29, 2014, in 2000s, Comedy, Drama, Germany and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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