Good bye, Lenin! Movie Review
The film is about a young man named Alex (Daniel Brühl) who tries to keep his convalescent mother (Katrin Sass) - who has recently awakened from a coma which she fell into right before the fall of Communism -- fooled into believing that the Berlin Wall is still up and Communism is alive and well.
Alex has been told by a doctor that his mother's heart is weak and that in order to keep her alive he should not startle or upset her. Since his mother was a committed Communist -- employed for years by the Party -- he decides the only way to prevent her from dying is to keep her sheltered from the outside world and pretend like nothing in East Germany has changed.
The film is ripe for great comedy and at times there are good bits of humor. Such as when Alex goes on a mad search for old Communist-brand goods, which have disappeared with the fall of the Wall, as well when he -- along with his friends and his sister (Maria Simon) -- have to deal with the ever expanding capitalistic world, which pokes its head in at the most inopportune times. There too are a few funny bits when Alex gets his friend Dennis (Florian Lukas) to record fake newscasts, which he shows to his mother as if they are live news.
However, these scenes are few and far between. The film is much more interested in being earnest than wacky and due to the way the story unfolds this works against it, because it all ends up being nostalgic and hollow rather than witty and insightful. But it's not just the story that's fragile; one of the main problems with the film is that it has an incessant piano score, which underlines and undermines almost every scene in the movie.
The performances are fairly good and the script is OK, but there's a credibility problem in getting the audience to believe that this 40-something woman (who actually seems pretty healthy) would be fooled for such a long time. We have to believe that someone so active in the Communist party wouldn't be curious enough to read newspapers, to catch up with the political news, to look out her bedroom window and see the changed world from her apartment, or that she wouldn't turn the television on when her son was out of the apartment. Indeed she seems be in a coma of her own making. (Although -- to be fair -- there is a hint that the mother realizes toward the end that she is being duped.)
The question in Good bye, Lenin! seems to be, "How long will Alex keep up the ruse and when will his mom find out?" But as it goes on, it ends up being a wistful film about keeping up appearances, lying, and manipulating the truth out of respect for a loved one. There is certainly an interesting message about the value of truth and how it can kill you, but it gets lost under the film's maudlin and unrealistic surface.
Good bye, Lenin! falls short too because it doesn't translate well enough for American audiences to get all the jokes and references. It is the kind of film that most certainly plays better in Germany, where it has racked up a good amount of awards. But no matter what country it is from; a sappy and unrealistic film is still a sappy and unrealistic film.
The DVD includes two commentary tracks (both in German), deleted scenes, two making-of featurettes, and uncut versions of the "Aktuelle Kamera" broadcasts. Lots to love for the foreign film fan -- especially if you sprechen Deutsch.
Aka Goodbye, Lenin.
Lenin, smell ya later!