Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Good Bye Lenin (2003 film) - review

Some of the most satisfying cinematic experiences come from those works which operate on more than one level, but which also retain a simple charm and emotional pull. One such movie is the 2003 German film, Good Bye Lenin!, directed by Wolfgang Becker.

The movie relates the story of an East German woman, a firm adherent to the ideals of the DDR, who falls into a coma shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and only wakes up eight months later. Told by doctors that any kind of shock may trigger a relapse in her health, the woman's son, with the assistance of friends and relatives, constructs an elaborate ruse with the objective of convincing his bed-ridden mother that her beloved state, party and system are still very much alive and well.

Real news footage is employed to drive the narrative.  Although the visuals portraying the 1989/90 period are not always that convincing, that is besides the point. The funniest moments generally revolve around the son Alex's endeavours to recreate a "socialist" environment in the family home, even down to books by Anna Seghers and a Che Guevara poster, and to conceal from his mother the demise of much which she cherished and believed in.

Through this prism of historic political change, we are given an insight into the mother/son relationship, and human love generally, which is genuinely touching and poignant.  The acting is generally top notch, and particular praise must be given to Daniel Bruhl for his depiction of the son, not only in his concern for his mother's well-being, but also for conveying the character's growing ambivalence and unease about the course of events in Germany. Katrin Sass is also excellent and convincing in the role of the mother.

As mentioned earlier, there are some amusing scenes associated with the creation, or maintenance of the illusion of the continuance of a socialist paradise, such as Alex and his friend producing "fake" East German television broadcasts to show to his mother. The scene where a Coca-Cola banner appears outside the mother's window, and the subsequent efforts to explain this away, are both amusing and though-provoking. The encroachment of consumerism and the dog-eat-dog mentality following reunification are gently satirized throughout the film.

Towards the end the emotional gains precedence over the comedic, and the way that the story concludes is central to the film's message and its appeal. The whole concept is admirably clever, if not 100 percent plausible, and one is left with both a warm feeling, but also sadness and regret.

A film well worth watching, combining entertainment value and profundity.

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