A young man in newly liberated East Germany tries to hide the fall of communism from his enthusiastically socialist mother because doctors say the shock would kill her. [ Good Bye Lenin credits: Dir: Wolfgang Becker/ 121 min/ Comedy, Foreign/ Anti-socialism]
This German-made comedy captures, in its own ironic way, the fall of communism far better than any straightforward telling. At one level, it’s a delightful farce that relentlessly mocks East Germany’s socialist past, but at another it also touches on the bittersweet emotional perspective of many former East Germans, that in the transition to freedom something of themselves was also lost.
At the center of Good Bye Lenin is a young man whose family was divided by the Berlin Wall. His father fled to the West and was never heard of again. Consequently, the young man’s distraught mother “married the State,” as it were, becoming an emphatic supporter of everything communist. But when the stirrings of liberty begin in the late 1980s, the son joins a march for free speech, and by chance the mother witnesses him being arrested. The shock is too much and she has a heart attack, subsequently falling into a coma. In the ensuing weeks, the Berlin Wall comes down, and East and West Germany begin reunification.
As she begins to awaken, doctors warn that she is in a very fragile state, and that the slightest shock – including news of the fall of socialism — could kill her. Her son decides there is only one solution to keep her alive: hide news of recent events, recreate East Germany in her convalescent room, and keep it going for as long as he can.
The lengths he goes to in order to provide her now abandoned inferior socialist consumer goods, fake communist-style news casts for her to watch on video, and to persuade others to join in the charade, provide the core of the film’s comedy; and because he is doing all this out of love, also the core of its heart. Of course, the charade can’t go on forever.
This thoroughly enjoyable film is also a sweet and honest one, that works in every respect (it won a slew of European film awards). Throughout it we see the absurd character of past socialist life, especially the poverty. But at the same time, in a final goodbye salute to that past, it acknowledges that for the older generation in particular — parents and grandparents, perhaps misguided in their socialist faith but beloved and caring nonetheless — the transition was not without sacrifice.
“The cockamamie way foreign language films are chosen for Oscar consideration is evident in the fact that Good Bye, Lenin wasn’t even nominated. I don’t claim to have seen every entry from around the world, but it’s hard to imagine five better than this deliciously offbeat comedy, as wildly inventive as anything Billy Wilder ever conceived.”
“Wolfgang Becker’s film about one man’s attempt to make history stand still is a tragi-comic journey into political upheaval and personal worries. Taking wry pot-shots at the monolithic ideologies of Communism and Capitalism, Becker turns this family’s crisis into a symbol of Germany’s own attempt to heal old wounds and rebuild itself.”