“My mother outlived the GDR by three days. I believe it was a good thing she never learned the truth. She died happy. She wanted us to scatter her ashes to the winds. That’s prohibited in Germany, both East and West. But we didn’t care.”
‘Good Bye, Lenin!’, directed by Wolfgang Becker in 2003, is a comedy set in Berlin either side of German reunification in 1989 and 1990. A single mother, parent to Alex, played by Daniel Brühl, and Ariane, played by Maria Simon, is committed to the principles of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany, but just before the Berlin Wall collapses she suffers from a heart attack and slips into a coma. Waking eight months later, her children are told that she mustn’t suffer any shocks otherwise she may relapse. This leads to an ever elaborate attempt by Alex to conceal the collapse of East Germany and the ever increasing westernisation of the city. It says a great deal about the trauma of reunification and the double-edged opportunities that it gave to the East Germans, but also, as Alex attempts to recreate the society of his childhood, it develops a theme of blind nostalgia. It’s funny – Alex’s attempts at creating news-footage from the past and of locating food that is no longer available frequently involve slapstick comedy, but his ever increasingly strained attempts to cling to the past also illustrate how swift and momentous the changes were at the time. At the end of the film, we discover that what we have really been watching is Alex’s own attempts to cope with the shock of the new and with the sudden evaporation of boundaries, and his corresponding attempt at ‘reunification’ as he finally meets his estranged father in West Berlin. Alex’s life becomes a microcosm of the turbulent period of history, from the fabrication of reality by the Soviet controlled government, to the strange, painful and yet cathartic political revolution.
Would I recommend it? Yes – it’s really funny and says a great deal about recent (recent for me) history. It would be interesting to watch this in the context of films such as ‘Germany, Year Zero’, also set during a time of upheaval but taking a completely different angle.