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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 23.91%
Average: 17.39%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 0%

5 reviews, 16 user ratings

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Good Bye, Lenin!
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by Stephen Groenewegen

"Ignorance is bliss"
3 stars

Good bye, Lenin! is a German tragi-comedy set in Berlin during the turbulent years of 1989 and 1990. As the Berlin Wall crumbles and East and West Germany move toward reunification, Alex Kerner (Daniel Brühl) struggles to keep his family from falling apart.

Ten years earlier, Alex’s father (Burghart Klaussner) leaves for the West and never returns. Alex’s mother, Christiane (Katrin Saß), is devastated. After several months in a sanitarium, she returns to young Alex and his teenage sister Ariane. Their father is never mentioned again, as Christiane is now staunchly “married to the socialist fatherland”.

In 1989, en route to celebrations marking the 40th anniversary of the German Democratic Republic, Christiane witnesses Alex arrested at a demonstration. She has a heart attack on the spot and collapses into a coma. When she awakens in hospital eight months later, it is in a Berlin that has undergone rapid Westernisation. Concerned that the shock of the change will bring on a relapse, Alex decides to conceal the reality of New Germany from his resolutely socialist mother, a task that proves considerably harder than he expected....

Director Wolfgang Becker and screenwriter Bernd Lichtenberg take great pains to humanise the dramatic details of political change. Ariane drops out of college to take a job at Burger King. Traditional East German products vanish from supermarket shelves when stores are flooded with exotic new Western brands. Coca-Cola advertising banners appear on buildings. There is a currency crisis. Curious traffic streams back and forth across the former East-West border.

Unfortunately, a film requires more than details. Good bye, Lenin! boasts an intriguing set-up and a poignant conclusion. A shame the middle of the film is so banal. It consists mostly of Alex running around Berlin being a control freak. He’s trying to erase eight months of Western influences by restoring his mother’s apartment to its previous stodgy East German style before she (literally) wakes up to the changes outside her hospital window.

Alex’s initial voiceover hints at a clever and likeable, self-deprecating young man. We assume he’s interested in politics because he participates in a street march. But the filmmakers swiftly sacrifice Alex’s character and political consciousness to sketch their theme about unification within country and family. They also vaguely parallel Alex’s deception of his mother and the state’s deception of its subjects. Daniel Brühl’s Alex becomes less a person in his own right than an apolitical functionary.

The film’s poignancy comes from the knowing performances of Saß and Klaussner as Alex’s parents. Despite being bedridden for most of the film, Saß conveys a caring nature and moving transition from a determined and protective mother to a bewildered and helpless old woman. Besides Christiane, the other female roles are mostly limited to arguing with Alex (Maria Simon and Chulpan Khamatova as sister and girlfriend respectively). Refreshing comic relief comes from Florian Lukas as Denis, Alex’s aspiring filmmaker co-worker.

Good bye, Lenin! has already been enormously popular in Europe. It shares similarities with both Forrest Gump and the Australian comedy The Dish. Despite a lively historical backdrop and charged political context, Good bye, Lenin! is too scared of offending its audience. There’s no incitement to engage intellectually with the material, only emotionally. The essence of the film is warm nostalgia; you’ll come away knowing more about East Germany’s wallpaper and gherkin labels than its recent history.

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originally posted: 12/11/03 16:53:07
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 FilmFest Kansas City For more in the 2005 FilmFest Kansas City series, click here.

User Comments

4/16/06 CPT Hoolie Funny and moving. 4 stars
8/13/05 Ben Quinn A delightful film 5 stars
4/10/05 R.C.F. film looses focus in overblown melodramatic moments, as a comedy it only works half as good 4 stars
11/09/04 Taylor Fladgate People in the "Blue States" will enjoy & understand this complex comedy. 5 stars
9/23/04 denny good but not up to my expectations; would have been better as straight comedy 3 stars
8/16/04 ownerofdajoint truly a clever and deep flick don't miss it 5 stars
8/15/04 J.P. George Borders on radical chic "Ostalgie" but still an excellent film! 5 stars
8/12/04 kc not a waste of time, but apparently overrated here 4 stars
5/17/04 ajay really good... 4 stars
4/08/04 bri just see it! 5 stars
3/29/04 Mark poignant and heartfelt 5 stars
3/21/04 Beth E. This heartwarming movie presents former East Germany in a hilarious way. I love it! 5 stars
1/28/04 irena has its moments, may surprise you, but don't expect much, a bit overelongated 3 stars
1/12/04 Chlo Gyllenhaal I thought this was a sweet and fun movie! Daniel Bruhl looks a lot like Jake Gyllenhaal.... 5 stars
10/12/03 Mitsaso An amazingly funny and touching movie! 5 stars
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  27-Feb-2004 (R)
  DVD: 10-Aug-2004



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