Good Bye Lenin! (Day 78)

Good Bye Lenin My Opinion: 7.0 || A well-balanced comedy/drama that captures German unification with rich period detail. The plot itself requires some suspension of disbelief, but it’s an interesting, lightly funny, and affectionate film.

TITLE: Good Bye Lenin!
DIRECTOR: Wolfgang Becker
LANGUAGE: German | COUNTRY: Germany
YEAR: 2003
PROFILE: Historical Comedy | 121 minutes | IMDb (7.7)

SYNOPSIS (Courtesy of IMDb): In 1990, to protect his fragile mother from a fatal shock after a long coma, a young man must keep her from learning that her beloved nation of East Germany as she knew it has disappeared.

Strengths: The East Germany of 1989-90 is probably the film’s most compelling character. Director Wolfgang Becker has a great feel for the era and convincingly portrays the headlong excitement and uncertainty of those months. It’s a clever conceit: Alex’s desperate, daffy campaign to hide the country’s changes from his mother proves to be a great window on the speed and irresistibility of those changes. The comedy is light, aiming for sympathetic smiles over big laughs, which is just right and meshes well with the more poignant moments.

Weaknesses: The premise is clever and effective but not fully convincing. Because Becker is playing for drama he can’t get away with simple outrageousness, so we spend much of the movie teetering on the edge of incredulity. It becomes more and more of a stretch to believe that Alex and his helpers would (or could) maintain the fiction. As they all work hard to pretend for the sake of Mr. Kerner, we need to work at pretending too. The effort is so interesting and well intended, though, that we don’t much mind the effort.

Goodbye Lenin

A bigger concern is that Becker mostly skirts the ugly realities of the German Democratic Republic. There’s an early scene with leering secret police, one strong scene of police brutality, and allusions to the oppressiveness of communist control. But aside from graffiti, the Stasi are not mentioned, and you could watch the movie without grasping the culture of fear, suspicion, and surveillance that prevailed in East Germany. The tyranny of inferior products and absence of choice gets humorous attention, which is all good, but we’re left with an impression that communism was mostly about bad TV and ugly blouses.

Characters/Performances: Daniel Brühl (who kept reminding me of Jim Sturgess) is excellent as Alex — the right combination of handsome, sensitive, and headstrong. The movie depends on his ability to sell the semi-sensical premise, and he does it well. Credit also to Burghart Klaußner who brings important pathos to the small but important role of Alex’s father.

Goodbye Lenin

Best Moment: The film’s best comedy comes when Alex needs to justify the sudden appearance of a Coca-Cola banner outside his mother’s window. The immediate reaction is amusing, and the elaborate solution is fun to watch. And the movie’s standout image: A sculpted Lenin gliding down the boulevard on his way to oblivion.

File Under: communism, police state, mothers and sons, loving deception, Berlin wall, Wolfgang Becker, Soviet pickles