It’s been too long since the last installment in this series and the celebrations this week over the fall of the Berlin Wall create a perfect opportunity to talk about Good Bye, Lenin!. While the movie is about the fall of the wall and Communism, it presents an innovative and fun take on it.
The premise is odd but straightforward. In October 1989, Alex Kerner, a young East Berliner, is marching in a protest. His mother, a loyal socialist, suffers a heart attack and goes into a coma when she sees him hauled off by the police. When Alex’s mother regains consciousness months later, Alex is warned the next shock could be fatal. So he takes her home and makes every effort — some hilariously outrageous — to keep from her from learning the East Germany she knew no longer exists. These include rigging the television in the apartment to play only videotapes of old East German broadcasts and faking news stories to account for things she sees out the window.
For some, the ironies maybe a bit too obvious. The dissident keeps socialism alive in his own home and becomes a propagandist of sorts for East Germany. The son shows his love for his mother by lying to and deceiving her. Yet those who lived in or are very familiar with East Germany and East Berlin undoubtedly catch far more satire and humor than the average American viewer. In fact, director Wolfgang Becker said, “The film is too complicated and historical for most Americans.” Despite that, Rotten Tomatoes “T-Meter” critics gave it an 89 percent rating, not bad given many Americans tend not to watch foreign films.
The movie won and was nominated for plenty of awards, including a best foreign film nomination for the 2004 Golden Globe Awards. It was a huge hit in Germany and I think it deserved more recognition in the U.S. Good Bye, Lenin! combines humor and compassion in a story that deals not only with the collapse of a country but its impact on society and on individuals. It might even create a tad bit of nostalgia for the Berlin Wall and East Germany. While it may not be a classic, it is a movie I frequently suggest when friends are looking for foreign film recommendations.
On the evening of October 7, 1989, several hundred people got together for some evening exercise and marched for the right to go for walks without the Berlin Wall getting in their way.
Alex Kerner (Daniel Brühl), Good Bye, Lenin!