Good Bye, Lenin!
2003, R, 118 min. Directed by Wolfgang Becker. Starring Daniel Brühl, Katrin Sass, Chulpan Khamatova, Maria Simon, Florian Lukas, Alexander Beyer.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., April 9, 2004
Extremely popular in its home country of Germany and throughout the European continent, this gentle comedy pokes fun at the Germany of pre- and post-unification. While evidencing nostalgia for some of the communist conditions and products in the former East Germany, the movie also mocks the consumerism and prosperity of the new united Germany. It’s a confident and mature mockery that accepts neither side without exceptions, but it’s also a bittersweet tone piece that finds the new Germany undergoing something of an identity crisis. Set in 1989 during the final days before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the film’s comedy rests on one key factor: A loyal East German mother (Sass) sees her son (Brühl) at a demonstration and collapses in the street and falls into a coma that lasts several months – enough for the wall to come down and for Germany to reunify. When she awakes from her coma, the world as she knew it has vanished, but due to her precarious state her physician advises her family that the slightest shock could kill her. Her son Alex interprets this to mean that he should keep his mother from knowing the truth about her dismantled homeland. Toward this effort, he reclaims the old pasteboard furniture they had discarded in order to turn his mother’s bedroom to its former drabness. He scours garbage cans for old jars and labels into which he can transfer new food products into the old packaging of the communist brands. Everyone who comes into her bedroom must change from their bright, new clothing (or in his sister’s case, her new Burger King uniform) into their bland, ill-fitting communist garb, and Alex creates newly videotaped newsreel footage with his buddy that creates a fictional Germany of the imagination – a fantasy that may be more to Alex’s liking than anything in his reality. Of course, reality has a way of invading this self-created fiction, and the film’s humor comes from Alex’s inventive struggles to keep the inevitable from happening. Some of the film’s laughs no doubt play more forcefully among those more intimate than U.S. audiences with the deprivations and inanities of life in the former communist republic. Still, the film seems overlong and drawn out, with variations on the same joke occurring throughout. Although the performances are good, the nostalgia for the past seems quaint in the new "have it your way" Burger King world.