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I found this movie to be a charming film and very engaging on both a
personal and a social level. The story is drawn from the lives of an
East Berlin family struggling to cope with the changing world as their
way of life is challenged. The father, having reportedly left the
family for the West years before, is not present and the mother
replaces her spousal needs with the love of her country and its way of
The premise of the film centers on the frail mother, who falls into a coma mere weeks before the fall of the Berlin wall. Eight months later, she regains consciousness, and her children are told not to excite her, lest she have another episode.
Bound by their love of their mother, the son and daughter seek to shield her from the changes in her culture. In their apartment, they recreate the conditions of the world she remembers, right down to the labels on the food they serve her. As the mother comes into contact with the inevitable disparities between her new world and the one she remembers, the son compounds the deception, eventually creating false newscasts to explain the phenomena she witnesses in a manner more consistent with her core assumptions of life.
The film is touching, tender, funny and dramatic. However, the elements that really drew me in were the historical construction and the plot device of deception.
The historical construction was the way in which the son, through his efforts to explain the increasingly Westernized elements of German society his mother observes, recreates East Germany as the country he could have faith in. As he recreates history to incorporate current events, he softens the harshness of the party rhetoric, reforming the socialistic ideal closer to the compassion for the masses and the acceptance of the 'enemy' capitalists. The film makes ample use of actual news footage in his narrative, footage that adds sharp contrast to Alex's version.
This contrast is a striking reminder about how much of our social conscience is constructed through the lenses we choose to observe reality and recall history. Alex had quickly come to give up his socialist devotion (though the film does make it clear form the beginning that the adult Alex was already disenchanted with it). But as Alex fabricates news reports and artifacts for the illusion he's providing his mother, he actually appears to be inventing a system of socialism that he can feel proud of. It's almost as if in trying to console his mother, he connects to her by reinterpreting her world into something he can interface with, building common ground.
How much of our own social history is constructed in this manner? We champion our own system of free market democracy as the 'city on the hill' for other nations. We raise up the virtues of our freedom and individuality (and there are indisputably many virtues), while ignoring some of the more sorted historical results it has yielded. We choose which portions of our history we celebrate, and which portions we condemn to academic obscurity.
Americans use history to construct our national mythology. Like Homer and Virgil before us, we compose idealized stories of virtue and create narratives that resound with the language of legendary epics. And because of this mythology building exercise, we often fail to see our own cultural reality for the flawed imperfect collection of group effort that it is. That's why we feel so betrayed when our leaders make simple human mistakes or we see representatives of our culture participating in a manner that runs counter to our values.
No where is this phenomenon so pronounced as when it comes to our national leaders. We look back on our founding fathers and through our myth building, elevate them to superhuman stature. Our high school students may not remember what wars Washington fought in or what political initiatives he took but they remember that he cut down a (fictional) cherry tree and refused to lie about it.
We remember the elegant words that our predecessors crafted without remembering the pain and suffering their efforts exacted from other people. We remember that Thomas Jefferson advocated 'Equal and exact justice to all men, of whatever state or persuasion, religious or political ' while conveniently forgetting that he was ambivalent at best to the degree that freedom extended to those in a state of slavery. We forget that founding father quarreled, that at times they misrepresented each other's interest to foreign leaders and that on occasion may have even tried to kill one another.
The founding fathers we remembered were well educated, civil and wise.
Against this tapestry of myth we watch contemporary politics play out, trying desperately to spin events into frameworks that reinforce our desires for justice and virtue.
We are all Alex, trying to reconstruct a new view of history that makes us more proud of where we come from. We invent and reinvent history to suit our needs and like Alex, do so in the name of providing a safe environment (or better way of life) for others.
The destruction of the Berlin Wall in 1989 was a historically significant
event not just for the people of Germany, but also for much of the rest of
the world. Aside from reuniting two vastly different political systems,
this remarkable incident marked a turning point for the capitalist
occurring within many of the other socialist states. Filmmakers worldwide
have since explored the causes and effects of the German Reunification,
even today, they continue to bring new insight and a fresh perspective to
event that occurred nearly fifteen years ago. Wolfgang Becker's GOOD BYE,
LENIN! is among the most recent of such films, and probably among the best
of them as well.
Rather than charging head-on at a specific political standing, GOOD BYE, LENIN! uses carefully controlled satire to poke fun at the absurdities of both communist and capitalist societies. And despite criticism from gung-ho supporters of either system, Becker is careful not to take sides or appear sympathetic toward any political institution. Instead of concentrating exclusively on the governmental changes of the newly reunified Germany, he wisely opts to narrow his focus on the effects that these changes have on one particular Berlin family. By doing this, Becker is able to show the challenges of adapting to a new, unfamiliar way of life in a context that is much more personal and easier for the viewer to identify with.
The humor in GOOD BYE, LENIN! is plentiful, and Becker takes advantage of every possible opportunity to fit in a comedic moment. Even during the most somber parts of the story, the film never lets go of its astute sense of humor; and because the humor is always thought-provoking and cleverly executed, it never feels forced or gratuitous. The running joke about Alex's unremitting quest for Spreewald pickle jars and the scene where Alex's bedridden mother is perplexed by the Coca-Cola banner hanging from the building across from hers' are brilliant examples of the movie's sharp, yet sensitive wit. Aside from just being funny in themselves, these bits work doubly well because of their uses of symbolism and metaphor. The Spreewald pickles, now impossible to find because of the fall of the GDR, are representative of the `good old days' when Alex was familiar with the ways of his country and when his mother was in good health. His almost frantic search for them shows his longing to return to the way things used to be. Likewise, the unfurling of the Coca-Cola banner is the perfect embodiment of all the capitalist changes occurring within the new Germany. Once you begin to see the Coca-Cola and Burger King logos, you know that capitalism has truly grabbed hold and that there is now no escaping its embrace, for better or for worse.
GOOD BYE, LENIN! makes great use of this type of imagery to emphasize the country's transformation and to provide insight to the emotions of the main characters. A most notable instance of this is the scene where Alex's mother, a staunch supporter of socialism, finally leaves her home to a very different East Germany than the one she remembered. She then looks to the sky and sees a helicopter airlifting a statue of Lenin off the top of a building. As Lenin is being hauled away, his outstretched arm seems to be reaching out to her, as if he's calling out for her to rescue him and his ideals, and restore her beloved country.
Alex's complex lies and meticulous attempts at preserving the past for his mother are innocent enough at first, but eventually they begin to take on a life of their own. The lengths he goes through to maintain the atmosphere of a bygone era and keep his mother happy are indeed funny, but they are also very tragic as well. Though the lies do work temporarily to keep his mother oblivious to the events outside of her apartment, they also plunge Alex and his family into such a deep pool of deception that they eventually lose their closeness with one another. The stress of keeping up the façade becomes unbearable for Alex, and at one point he even wishes his mother were dead.
Other humor was purely cultural, and probably only appreciable by people who have actually experienced the Reunification. I noticed this only because of the native German family sitting in front of me at the theater, laughing in unison at dialogue and images that didn't look to me like they were meant to be interpreted as humorous. But still, even though the older generations of German people are likely to get more out of this movie, it is still a hilarious, heartfelt, and incredibly rewarding experience for people of all cultures and ethnicities.
This was a good film, and I think it needed to be made. A way of life
disappeared in Europe, perhaps forever, and it seems appropriate that
the fall of Communism has thus been documented.
The basic premise of "Goodbye Lenin" is that the young man's mother is in a coma over the months when the Berlin Wall is coming down. She wakes up (oblivious) in united Germany, but as she is so fragile she cannot be allowed to know that everything she held dear has collapsed. What ensues is a comic and moving scenario - her son does his best to pretend that nothing has changed.
Yes, the movie is a little drawn-out. And most of the comedy is lost on non-Germans, or those unaware of the political climate in the region. However, there are clear universal issues to be considered; idealism, hope, family. There is one particular scene which I thought encompassed exactly how the main protagonist feels - he is at a bank trying to change his mother's old East German currency into Deutschmarks but the deadline has passed. He becomes aggravated by the sheep-like behaviour of his peers. After all, this is their culture being crushed by McCapitalism, but their individual vaunting ambition blinds them from doing something about it. Very refreshing to see this on the big screen.
All in all, "Goodbye Lenin" is a nicely-rounded statement of where the European film industry is heading, and it will appeal to most independent-minded people on both an artistic and political level. 8/10.
'Good Bye, Lenin!' is a fascinating German film that was for unclear
reasons denied a best foreign film nomination in the recent Oscars, but
I consider it one of the best films I've seen this year. 'Good Bye,
Lenin!' is an entertaining and surreal black comedy, that doesn't
really stand the test of logic and reality, but beneath the surface
it's really a very socially conscious film, that gets across very well
the atmosphere and problems of the post-communist East Germany.
The story is of Alex, whose mother, a devoted member of the Communist Party, suffers a heart attack which sends her into a coma - through which she sleeps throughout the months of revolution and the fall of the communist regime. When she awakes, the doctors warn Alex not to cause his mother any anxiety or excitement; therefore, he goes to ludicrously immense lengths to keep her convinced that communism in East Berlin is still alive. Not much of it, once again, stands the test of reason, but it's incredibly witty and entertaining, and manages, throughout, to get across some powerful statements.
'Good Bye, Lenin!' is both fun and important, a film which I recommend to everyone. Don't be afraid of European cinema; even though the film might be difficult to come by, it's very rewarding and well worth your time.
Just as Rip Van Winkle slept through the American Revolution and woke
up twenty years later to find himself a citizen of a brand new country,
so Kathrin Sass, an East German woman, slips into a coma on the eve of
the fall of the Berlin Wall only to wake up eight months later a member
of a capitalist society. This is the premise of 'Good Bye Lenin,' a
clever and affectionate tale about truth, love and family ties that
transcends all national borders and boundaries.
Kathrin, a woman who has dedicated her life to the perpetuation of Communist Party ideology, suffers a major heart attack that plunges her into a comatose state a few months prior to the dissolution of the land she knows as East Germany. While she is 'asleep,' governments tumble, barriers crumble and a whole new tide of Western goods and values comes flooding eastwards to a ravenous, eagerly awaiting public. Then she wakes up. Fearing that the shock of finding such a radically changed world will lead to a second heart attack, her loving son, Alex, devises an elaborate scheme to shield her from the truth and to make her believe that the world she lives in now is the same world she knew eight months before (the basic premise is not that different from the one in 'Jacob the Liar').
'Good Bye Lenin!' is an amusing regional comedy that derives its laughs from two basic sources: the near-slapstick nature of the charade Alex is attempting to perpetrate, and the script's satirical view of a society rushing madly to embrace the joys of unbridled consumerism they have been so long denied. Given its gimmicky premise, 'Good Bye Lenin!' could have emerged as a one-joke comedy were it not for the fine sense of irony and absurdity that writer/director Wolfgang Becker (working with co-writer Bernd Lichtenberg) has brought to the project. In addition, young Daniel Bruhl as Alex and Katrin Sab as Kathrin deliver expert, moving performances that go to the very essence of the mother/child relationship.
I must confess that this film, despite its generally upbeat tone, brings with it a certain rueful sadness that the filmmakers may not exactly have intended. Could it really have been a mere fifteen years ago that the events depicted in this film actually happened - a mere fifteen years ago that the future of the human race seemed so full of joy, hope and promise? Now, in a post 9/11 world - where sectarian hatred and international terrorism rule the day - this image of people coming together to cast off the shackles of bondage and embrace freedom seems already like a quaint memory from the long distant past. In a strange way, the film has become something of a relic in its own time, outstripped by a world that has long since moved on to bigger and more dire concerns. 'Good Bye Lenin' reminds of just how long ago and far away the Cold War really was.
I didn't have too many expectations for this film. My partner pitched
it to me as a comedy, and I hadn't seen the trailer in a while so I
went into thinking that's all it would be. Instead, it really was a
sublimely sophisticated film.
I had the good fortune to see East Berlin first in July 1989 (there was *ZERO* hint that the wall would be down in 4 months) and then in February 1990. It was an amazing before and after, and I thought this film captured this very well. As a visitor to the East for several months that year, this film really brought back to me the East European Quiet Revolution when everything really did change.
The characters going through that change are of course an allegory for the changes all around them- '40 years gone! They sold us up river!' says an old man who represents those who 'lost' in the reunification contrasted to those who won-the youth. Similarly, the contrast of personal re-unification (the children and their father) vs that of the east and west is a wonderfully treated theme through the film . And of course lies. Lies to comfort us, lies to deal with other lies. A very, very touching film.
The concept of this movie, which is that a young man has to do all in
his power to stop his mother who is recovering from a heart attack
learning of what's happened to Germany while she was in a coma, is
absolutely delicious, but it's a premise that could easily go wrong.
However, I'm pleased to report that it certainly didn't go wrong, and
through interesting characterisation, a great script and some
thought-provoking ideas; Good Bye, Lenin! is a winner all the way! An
excellent ensemble gives way to a story that has a lot of heart, and
one that makes it's points - both politically and otherwise - without
the use of a sledgehammer. Good Bye, Lenin! is one of those films that
is what you make of it; on the one hand, it's a touching and
entertaining story of a boy's journey into adulthood and his love for
his mother, but on the other hand; it's a biting political satire that
intertwines themes of how our perception of certain truths can impact
Daniel Brühl, a young Spanish talent, takes the lead role as 'Alex', the young man at the centre of the tale. Through his subtle acting, Daniel is able to capture the determination and adoration that epitomise his character wonderfully. He is joined by the beautiful Chulpan Khamatova, Maria Simon and Alexander Beyer, who lend support to Brühl, as his girlfriend, sister and sister's boyfriend respectively, along with Kathrin Sass, who takes the central role of the mother recovering from a heart attack. I can't pick a single fault with any one of them. The setting of the fall of the Berlin Wall serves as a great place to set this story, as it allows the film to give a commentary on the changes of Germany's political landscape at the same time as allowing us to take in themes of family, love and the perception of truth that are abundantly clear. There aren't many bad things that I can say about it, and the only one really is that it can be a bit over sentimental at times. On the whole, however, Good Bye, Lenin! is an absolute treat and most certainly one of the better movies to have been released so far this decade.
Last night I watched it for the second time. I'd seen it at the cinema two years ago, then last night my boyfriend, who hadn't seen it, decided to rent it. I loved it first time round, I loved it second time round, maybe even a tad more than I did originally. With wonderfully engaging characters all round, the film is endowed with a great sense of humour, both visual and verbal (and those Europhobic old Brits keep going on about how the Germans have no sense of humour!), it's socially relevant yet easier to watch than a straight comedy. The script is intelligent yet accessible to anyone, even a shallow teenager with no attention span whatsoever... yet IT is never shallow. And most of all, it's a deeply moving little gem of a film which however never abuses its secure grip on the heart-strings. I could see even my boyfriend was dewy-eyed at some points! And so was I, even more than two years ago. A small but perfectly formed film, it's actually not as small as one might think at first impact. Love (specifically, filial love) is its main theme, treated in a schmaltz-free, fresh, non-superficial and a non-clichéd manner.
Today there is no more die Deutsche Demokratische Republik, there's no
People's Republic of Bulgaria, no Yugoslavia, no Czeskoslovenska
Socialisticka Republika, no USSR... The entire "Progressive World",
apparently having reached the final stage of political and social
self-actualization, decided there's no more place for it to develop
into the material existence, and went altogether into Nirvana. They
left a political vacuum, a socio-economic crisis, wars, misery, and all
else that many of you remember, while others have just seen on TV.
I am born during the last years of communism, but don't remember much of it. What I clearly remember was the downfall of the system. The crowds, the demonstrations, the blue flags, people crying, singing "Freedom! Freedom! Time is ours! 45 years is enough!". My grandmother took me into her hands, so that two polish photographers took a picture of us (she later on told me), and yes, the day after tomorrow we would live like in a wonderful Hollywood film. We didn't. And my entire generation passed its childhood into a lingering crisis, which broke down the society, the values, the morals, people fled the country, as if it was infected with plague.
Today in the place of die Deutsche Demokratische Republik is Ost-Deutschland. A country, where entire buildings are empty, people having moved to the West. Investors don't chose the Ost for their capitals, they'd rather invest into Czech or Poland, where the workers are as qualified and several times cheaper. Today Bulgaria is slowly improving, and maybe in the next 200 years it will catch up the economic standard of the EU. Yugoslavia was torn by war after war, the Soviet Union collapsed into different countries, which had never been independent, Slovakia broke off from the Czech Republc, in search of its own Moravian identity.
And a dream that came to replace the slavery of oppression and Nazism, and that was meant to continue for a thousand years at least, collapsed under its corruption.
But the memory was fresh. The evils of corruption and concentration camps for political prisoners faded away, and only romanticism remained. Memories of a past that never was, or never should have been, or was, and had to be. Red t-shirts with yellow CCCP written on them became fashionable, referring to communism became a sort of a common identity for Eastern European students in western universities, nostalgia filled the hearts of many, and this was also expressed into the arts.
It was a very sad film. I recommend it to all of you, who remember, and don't remember, who know, and don't know, or would like to know, or don't care about, or whatever. It is not a Hollywood high-budgeted blockbuster. It's far from that, but it's touching, true, amusing, and sad.
This story has it all : family tragedy, growth (from child to adult and
even growth as an adult), dealing with political and social change, and
romance. I think the story gives one a good idea of just how much
change occurred when the Iron Curtain fell over Eastern Europe and the
difficulties and opportunities it brought. The story revolves around
Alex, his sister and their mother. Their mother has a heart attack and
then goes into a coma. During her coma, communism fell and then she
wakes up. Advised by her doctor that she cannot take any form of
excitement, Alex goes about creating the illusion that communism is
alive and well. This often takes a comical twist on the differences
between the communist east and capitalist west. There is also the
subtle hint of discrimination by both sides against the other. In the
end the story is about family and loved ones and what we are willing to
do to make those around us happy. Go out and rent this movie.
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