Good Bye, Lenin!

‘Good Bye, Lenin!’ attracted millions of Germans to the cinema. They were of course appealed by the themes taken from recent German history: the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, the demise of the German Democratic Republic, the unification of the two Germany’s. These developments went very fast, and in no time complete households were westernized. Eastern German products, institutions and values were gone in the blink of an eye. In recent years feelings of nostalgia are growing. Was really everything that bad in those days? Was it a good thing to throw away all our eastern belongings and souvenirs? This movie reflects the growing ‘Ostalgia’. People from both eastern and western Germany can relate to ‘Good bye, Lenin!’, though there was also some criticism. Some people found that the sometimes bitter historical truth is covered under a blanket of sweet nostalgia.

The film by Wolfgang Becker (who also made ‘Das Leben is eine Baustelle’ – 1989) is also highly succesful in other countries that perceive the subject matter with more distance. It’s a further proof that German cinema is in a heyday period, with the success of for example Tom Tykwer (‘Lola rennt’), though far too few German movies reach the Dutch cinema’s. The combination of very comic and deeply tragic elements give ‘Good bye, Lenin!’ an universal appeal. And of course the great basic idea behind the story.

Alex Kerner (21), who works as a tv-repairman, is no great admirer of the DDR-regime. One day he even participates in a demonstration, which is eneded with force by the police. His mother witnesses how Alex is taken away. She gets a heart attack and falls into a deep coma. When she wakes up 8 months later, many things have changed. The wall is gone, people are moving to the west, Coca-Cola is invading the former DDR and the D-Mark is the symbol of the new belief.

There is one problem. The doctors tell Alex that his mother must rest and not get any excitement. But she was deeply attached to the old regime, and the news that the DDR is history would come as a great shock. What follows are hilarious scenes in which Alex and his sister pretend that nothing has happened. In their appartment they put their old socialist furniture back in place, get their old clothes back from the second-hand store and desperately try to find the old brands of food. Which is not so easy when their mother asks fro the good old ‘Spreewald Gurken’…

Thier masquerade gets more and more complicated and over the top. When mother wants to watch television they show her videotapes of old news broadcasts, ‘they were always the same anyhow’. Finally they even start to produce their own new bulletins, in typical DDR-style, which is absolutely hilarious. What started as a well-meant way to protect their mother, now begins to lead its own life…

All these scenes are made with a lot of humour and nice visual elements, with some referencs to classic movies. The actors play natural and convincing. I was charmed by the Russian actress Chulpan Khamatova, who plays Lara, Alex’s girlfriend. Yann Tiersen composed the fine soundtrack, with dramatic minimal classical music, a little less cheerful than his music for ‘Amelie’.

I love the irony in re-making the news, which itself was already a twisted view of reality. In the end mother also has a secret to reveal, so no one seems to be telling the truth anymore… I also like the returning ‘kosmonaut-theme’, formerly a symbol of communist achievements, which gives added depth to the film. Though the film is characterized by absurd comedy and melancholic humour and nostalgia, some critical notes can be found nevertheless about both sides of the wall. In the final voice-over a relative view on the DDR and socialism can be heard: wasn’t it meant as a positive way for people to live together? ‘Good bye, Lenin!’ is not a true political or historical movie though, but a remarkable family history with a warm atmosphere.