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PopGap #27: Good Bye Lenin! (2003)

PopGap #27: Good Bye Lenin! (2003)

Written by dorrk
25 April 2017

Mother overslept the triumph of capitalism.

I usually think of german cinema as bleak, gritty and depressing, and certainly my favorites from that country are grim meditations on survival and the devastating intersection of repressive politics and personal expression. As someone who has taken several decades to come around toward appreciating the particularly grimy New German Cinema of the 1970s — with frownleaders like Herzog, Fassbinder and Wenders at the gloomy forefront — it's a nice, and rare, sensation to encounter Good Bye Lenin!, which is not only a bit bright, even buoyant, but downright close to a feel-good movie.

Set in East Germany at the end of the 1980s, Good Bye Lenin! presents the presumably farcical situation of Alex (Daniel Brühl), a young man attempting to hide the reality of cascading political changes from his sick mother (Katrin Sass) — a Party loyalist who slept through the fall of the Berlin Wall in a coma. Anxious to avoid piling the stress of rapid change upon her weak heart, Alex constructs a facade of social continuity that involves drab interior decoration, foraging for now-obsolete products, and even producing sham newscasts with a revisionist spin on the fortunes of the DDR. Alex's sister (Maria Simon) and girlfriend (Chulpan Khamatova) assist him, reluctantly, as there seems to be something deeper motivating Alex's scheme than he's willing to admit to himself.

Being a German comedy, Good Bye Lenin! isn't exactly full of laughs. Director Wolfgang Becker creates a slick tone of heightened naturalism that effectively evokes as much poignancy as it does amusement. As Alex's neighbors enthusiastically participate in the charade, despite the positive changes in their lives resulting from reunification, Becker neatly discovers the stubborn tenderness of nostalgia, which clings affectionately to the familiar, even when the familiar is undesirable. On an even more profound level, Becker uses the clever narrative of Good Bye Lenin! to explore the ramifications of the white lies we tell each other to avoid emotionally difficult conversations, especially when they might reveal our greatest weaknesses. Just like the prevarications of a flailing socialist government positioning itself as a success, the people in Good Bye Lenin! concoct narratives of diversion from the hard facts of who they are and and self-promotion in the face of their shame. By focusing on the surface hijinks and, ultimately, the release of freedom from manipulation, Becker fashions from national tragedy a heartfelt story of personal affirmation.

Good Bye Lenin! was brought to my Potluck Film Fest by Flickcharter Ben Shoemaker, who can be found on Flickchart under the username benshoemaker. He ranks it on his chart at #194 / 2284 (92%), putting at #6 out 14 Foreign Language Films of the 2000sGood Bye Lenin! ranked on my Flickchart at #761 (80%), making it my 24th favorite Foreign Language Film of the 2000s, out of 91.

PopGap #27: Good Bye Lenin! (2003)

Trailer for Good Bye Lenin! (2003)