Goodbye, Lenin! (2003)

Goodbye, Lenin!
Goodbye, Lenin! (Germany, 2003)
Director: Wolfgang Becker
Screenplay
: Wolfgang Becker, Bernard Litchenberg
Cast: Daniel Bruhl, Katrin Saß, Maria Simon, Chulpan Khamatova, Florian Lukas, Alexander Beyer
Country
: Germany

An East Germany single mother, Christaine Kerner (Katrin Saß), collapses not long before the Berlin Wall falls. Eight months later she awakes from her coma. Her son, Alexander (Daniel Bruhl), decides the coming of capitalism will be too much for her. He recreates the defunct DDR in her apartment. A German comedy is a rare idea. Becker pulls it off, aided ably by the considerable charm of his cast, with moments of almost perfect pathos. It has packed out German cinemas and found an international audience. It is a charming film but far from flawless.

Christaine's first venture into post-communist Germany begins with a tension-draining montage sequence and ends with Lenin's torso floating down the street suspended from a helicopter à la Fellini's Dolce Vita. Alexander's encounter with his mother's drunken and elderly former boss (Michael Gwisdek) is a comic take on the opening of Apocalypse Now from broken glass to forced shower and final uncomfortable smartness. These moments lend a counterpoint to some of the leaden set pieces (deathbed revelations, father and son reunions).

Denis (Florian Lukas) is Alexander's work colleague. We learn early on that he is a movie fanatic. We are bored but endeared by his take on Kubrick's masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Many of the film's truly funniest moments are his recreation of East Germany television. Together they find it surprisingly easy to recreate communism from a few jars of pickle and old TV footage.

The main female characters provide the meat to this film. Christaine is deluded but we understand, by the end of the film, this is how she survives under communism. In fact, you feel that she probably could deal with capitalism better than her son, whose aim is to protect her. It is his journey to realise that his mother had a life before him and she had learnt to keep secrets for his protection. The lovely Lara (Chulpan Khamatova) represents his conscience. She challenges him to reveal the truth to his mother. Disappointingly, she lets him off the hook. Lara reveals the truth herself, allowing her lover to remain deluded. Alexander is ever protected by the women in his life.

Ariane (Maria Simon), Alexander's sister, misses another moment of drama. She is the rebel with a cause embracing capitalism with no shame, whether it is flipping burgers or her dumb West Germany boyfriend. Their father is absent throughout the film, until the very end. The Berlin Wall has fallen, he lives in West Berlin, their mother is in hospital, they haven't even moved apartment. However, he doesn't attempt to find his ex-wife or children that he left. Why doesn't she confront her dad?

This is the ultimate failure of the film. There are great moments of comedy. We can all laugh at attachments to products from childhood. The past out of context is always funny. However, there is dark side to this story. I'm not necessarily looking for tragedy. We are given some strong themes. There is betrayal and deceit, a love story and great sacrifice though we are only teased by Becker. It seems like a comic look at something the filmmaker doesn't understand in depth. Filmmakers should make us feel more or are my expectations too great?

More info on the film may be found at the official site http://www.good-bye-lenin.de/index2.php.

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Copyright ╘ 2003 by Melvyn Dresner
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