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GOODBYE, LENIN! (R) (2004)

A Sony Pictures Classic Release

Official Site

Director: Wolfgang Becker

Producers: Stefan Arndt

Written by: Wolfgang Becker, Bernd Lichtenberg

Cast: Daniel Bruhl, Katrin Saß, Maria Simon, Chulpan Khamatova, Florian Lukas, Alexander Beyer, Burghart Klaßner


In a world of instant global communication and unprecedented technological change, Goodbye, Lenin! is a whimsical attempt to look back and revel in the simplicity of a not-too-distant past. Director Wolfgang Becker explores this idea through the story of an East German brother named Alex and his younger sister (Bruhl and Simon). Their lives are dramatically upended when their mother Christiane (Sass) first falls into what seems an irreversible coma, and then miraculously awakens almost a year later. Her heart is frail, the doctors inform them, and she can’t take any sudden shocking information. The problem is a great deal of shocking change has indeed taken place in the brief time Christiane has been comatose. The Berlin Wall has fallen and East Germans are experiencing rapid social change and dramatic economic progress. Alex in particular, resolves to turn back the clock and preserve his mother’s surroundings as if it were 1988. In his fictitious creation, this not only means East and West Germany remain divided by the Berlin Wall, it also means friends and neighbors are “comrades” and grocery shelves are barren.

These are but a few of the outlandish efforts Alex constructs to keep up the façade. In addition to wearing outdated fashion styles, he resorts to changing the labels on food jars and doctoring phony news segments to convince his mother nothing has changed. A more deft comedy writer could have had great fun with such material, with Christiane becoming gradually suspicious of her surroundings. Unfortunately Becker and co-writer Lichtenberg lack such skills and Goodbye, Lenin! features almost no clever “near-misses” that could have wonderfully unraveled the charade. The only exception to Christiane’s oblivion is not used to forward the plot, but instead to pay homage to film director Federico Fellini. Only astute film viewers (such as hybridmagazine.com readers) will recognize that the classic opening shot from La Dolce Vita is being copied. Remember the Christ figure dangling from a cable as it’s flown across the skyline of Rome? Here it’s Christiane finally wandering out from her apartment only to watch in astonishment as a beckoning statue of Lenin hovers in the air before being flown out of the city by helicopter.

And yet still Christiane doesn’t take the hint that something is amiss and Goodbye, Lenin! languishes on for at least another hour as Alex and his sister continue to dupe their mother into believing socialism is alive and well and living in East Germany.

Christiane’s health continues to fail, so in a measure of desperation Alex concocts the ultimate fabrication: Through his phony newscasts, his mother watches Berlin erupting in celebration at the crumbling of the Wall with jubilant Germans waving flags and scampering atop the former concrete barrier. “These people want a different life,” says the broadcaster, “Not everyone wants careerism and spiraling consumerism. They’ve realized there’s more to life than cars, VCRs, and TV sets. They’re tired of capitalism and the never-ending rat race.” Ah, at long last, Germany is as one. It’s a sweet ending; regrettably, with a running time of almost two hours, it’s too long in the coming. One senses most German citizens in either the east and or the west never had to wait so long for unification to really take place.

—Nancy Semin


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