Home > Film, History, Reviews > Film Review: Good Bye, Lenin!

Film Review: Good Bye, Lenin!

Good Bye, Lenin! (2003; Directed by Wolfgang Becker)

A surprisingly heartfelt execution of a premise that could have been too clever by half, German filmmaking veteran Wolfgang Becker’s charming parable about social upheaval and historical amnesia in post-reunification Berlin succeeds as it does because it trusts its characters enough to let them breathe and feel and live. Where an American indie of the same type may well have lingered frivolously on the witty ingenuity of the central scheme, Good Bye, Lenin! is tempered with the experience of a nation where real, painful, disfiguring social change has overturned the basic national reality (and not just once in living memory, either).

This premise is as follows: as the East German state collapses and reunification with the West beckons, young idealist Alex (Daniel Brühl) lives with his infirm mother Christiane (Katrin Saß) and sister Ariane (Maria Simon) in East Berlin, romancing a Soviet nurse named Lara (Chulpan Khamatova). His proudly socialist mother has a heart attack when Alex is arrested at an anti-government demonstration, then slips into a coma and awakes, much weakened and unaware of recent sociopolitical developments, after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Concerned that discovery of the post-communist situation in the country could make good on the doctor’s warning that a further shock could kill her, Alex perpetrates an elaborate ruse. Marshaling every surrounding detail from home decor to food containers to fake news reports to craft a seamless illusion of the Democratic Republic’s continuity, he turns his ailing mother’s whole life into a Potemkin village of rose-tinted quotidian communism.

In a way, Alex’s meticulous recreation of the departed socialist system is an act of wish fulfillment, not merely for his backwards-looking mother, but for himself as well. A complex project both personal and entrepreneurial, the ruse is an attempt to construct a beneficent social framework that Western democracy promised to Eastern Europe but has had chronic issues in delivering in full. Becker’s film is never blatant in its judgements, and always ambiguous about the systems we use to make civilization function. In this way and surprisingly many more, Good Bye, Lenin! is smart little movie that isn’t even really that little, in the end.

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Categories: Film, History, Reviews
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