Good Bye, Lenin!

Laura Clifford 
Good Bye, Lenin!
Robin Clifford 
East German Alexander Kerner (Daniel Brühl) adores his mother, Christiane (Katrin Saß), who embraced the socialist state after her husband defected to the West for his 'enemy of the state' girlfriend.  In October of 1989, Christiane is on her way to a 40th DDR celebration when she spies Alexander among a group being arrested for protesting by the Wall and is stricken by a heart attack, which, unattended for too long, leaves her in a coma.  When his mother miraculously comes to eight months later, Alexander is determined to bring her home - and preserve the illusion that East Germany has not been reunified with the West - in the European Film Award winner "Good Bye, Lenin!"

Cowriter (with Bernd Lichtenberg, Hendrik Handloegten and Achim von Borries)/director Wolfgang Becker has fashioned a sweet tale of the love of a son for his mother set against a uniquely nostalgic backdrop.  In recreating his mother's world, a son comes to find his own idealistic version of his former socialist government just as his mother ironically comes to regret the decision which bound her to it.

The film begins as it ends, with old home movies depicting Christiane with her young children and Alexander's fascination with the East German space program.  Despite his hero worship of Sigmund Jähn (Stefan Walz), ten years later Alex is not a cosmonaut, but a television repair man.  Alex's boyhood conviction of August 26th, 1978 that 'we were world class' when the first German in space was from the East has soured in adulthood, but he still gives mom a wide berth as she composes humorous letters with a neighbor critiquing the state's unfashionable manufacture of women's clothing.

While mom is in a coma, Alexander falls in love with her Russian nurse Lara (Chulpan Khamatova, "Tuvalu"), whom he had first met at the protest, but is dismayed when his sister Ariane (Maria Simon, "Luther") drops out of college to work for her new live-in lover Rainer (Alexander Beyer), a West German who manages a local Burger King.  When mom returns home, Alex gives Rainer a new, Eastern identity and convinces visitors, such as her old boss Direktor Klapprath (Michael Gwisdek) to maintain the past, but Alex finds himself fighting an ever growing battle of having to repackage grocery products and produce fake television news programming.  By the time Ariane  recognizes their dad Robert (Burghart Klaußner) at her drive-thru window, mom is as tired of maintaining a long-held lie as her heart is of beating.

European Film Award Best Actor Brühl enlivens his dogged dedication to his mother with his humorous struggle to reinvent the past. Brühl always keeps one eye on the lookout for props, even in the midst of seducing Khamatova.  His romanticism is played off of nicely by Maria Simon's right angle turn as his pragmatic sister. Katrin Saß has a delicate presence which hovers above the turmoil being enacted on her behalf while Burghart Klaußner emanates a gentle regret for what might have been.  Florian Lukas is aces as Alex's sidekick and coconspirator Denis, who seizes an opportunity to act out his own fantasies.

Screenwriter/director Becker perhaps also uses Denis as a standin for himself when he has Denis enthusiastically show a disinterested Alexander a recreation of Kubrick's 2001 bone hurtling shot within the bouquet tossing edit from his latest wedding video shoot.  Kubrick is paid homage again with Becker's replication of the fast motion "Clockwork Orange" sex scene when Alex reassembles his mother's bedroom.  Fellini's opening shot from "La Dolce Vita" is honored when Alexander's mom wanders outside and is astonished by the sight of a helicopter carrying the upper half of a Lenin statue down the street.

Becker's sharpest bit of satire is how he has Alexander resolve his mother's exposure to Western presence in the East with his most outrageous made up newscast depicting West Germans scurrying over the Wall to 'defect' to the East.  Yet for all the humorous hysteria induced by the sight of Coca Cola signs and a lack of Spreewald pickle jars, "Good Bye, Lenin!" is at heart a tale of devotion warmed by nostalgia.

Robin did not see this film.

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