April 22, 2004

Goodbye, Lenin!

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Imagine going to sleep tonight only to wake up eight months later to find the United States being governed by Fidel Castro. Such is the inverse equivalent for East German socialist Christiane Kammer (Katrin Sass). When Christiane’s husband escapes to West Germany, she replaces the void left by her spouse with patriotism for her beloved East Germany. However, Christiane falls into a coma and sleeps through the demise of communism, only to wake up eight months later in a very different East Berlin. Unfortunately, her heart is so weak that any shock could send her back into a coma or even kill her. It becomes her son Alex’s (Daniel Bruhl) responsibility to keep the old socialist ways alive for his bedridden mother. This task becomes harder and harder as signs of capitalism start springing up outside their window. What ensues is a warm-hearted comedy regarding the changes associated with the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. Much of the success of Good Bye Lenin! is due to the vision of its director and co-writer, Wolfgang Becker. Becker, a German, has restricted himself to European films and television. In fact, it is hard to find a Becker production not from his homeland. Becker exhibits great skill in the cinematic elements of this film. Becker often plays visual tricks on the viewer by slightly slowing down or speeding up the film for only a moment, thus showing the contrast between the rapid changes and the resistance to them that occurred during the fall of East Germany. However, the real evidence of Becker’s talent is his screenplay, written along with fellow German, Bernd Leichtenburg. The original screenplay, which comes across as a modern version of Rip Van Winkle, is not only smart, but sustains a comfortable balance between comedy and drama.

Bruhl shows considerable talent in his role as Alex. At some points, Alex’s character can be hard to like. This is especially true when his white lies to his mother start to grow larger in scope and start to hurt more than help. Still, Bruhl manages to make the character of Alex and his situation believable to the audience along with creating great laughs.

Another acting talent not to be overlooked is Sass. It’s always hard to fill a role that is sympathetic to the authoritarian East German regime. Fortunately, Sass does not let the role of Christiane turn into some brainwashed Stalinist supporter, but rather as a person who is trying to improve life for those around her, even if it is in a very close -minded environment.

The only flaw with Good Bye, Lenin! is its length. Eventually, the joke that runs throughout the movie becomes as bland and overused as Alex’s lies. Still, this film is a great testament to the human experience as related to the fall of communism. Often, the only films exploring the Cold War are documentaries or James Bond flicks. It is seldom that a movie comes out that is able to explore the effect that the Cold War had not on regimes, but on regular people.

Archived article by Mark Rice
Red Letter Daze Staff Writer