Goodbye Lenin! * * * * *
Director: Wolfgang Becker.
Screenplay: Wolfgang Becker, Bernd Lichtenberg.
Starring: Daniel Brühl, Katrin Sass, Chulpan Khamatova, Maria Simon, Florian Lukas, Alexander Beyer, Burghart Klaussner.
Directors Lars von Trier from Denmark, Pedro Almodovar from Spain, Michael Haneke from Germany, Guillermo del Toro from Mexico and most recently Tomas Alfredson from Sweden are a handful of director’s from across the globe that have cemented a fervent following worldwide. These are a notable bunch (and there are many others), so why is it then, that after this little gem of a film from 2003 that German director Wolfgang Becker hasn’t made more of name for himself? If this film is anything to go by, he certainly deserves more recognition.
In 1989, East German teenager Alex (Daniel Brühl) feels liberated when the Berlin Wall comes down. His mother, however, is a staunch Communist, who would balk at the thought of westernisation. Just before the collapse of the wall, she has a heart attack and falls into a coma. When she awakens 8 month later and Germany now reunited as a country, Alex along with his older sister are advised by doctors to protect her fragile condition from any form of stress. As a result, they fabricate news bulletins and information to dupe their recuperating mother into believing German reunification never actually happened.
With a music score by Yann Tiersen, who done the wonderful soundtrack to the 2001 French film “Amelie“, you’d be forgiven for having similar feelings to that film while watching this. It’s not just the music that they have in common though. They also share an inventive and highly original approach. This may not contain the fantasy elements of “Amelie” but it’s delivered with such an offbeat creativity that it could hold it’s own against (another notable director) Jean-Pierre Juenet’s aforementioned delight. It has a great mix of humour and pathos with scenes of such tragic sadness combined with a wonderful lightness of touch and sharp observational humour. Despite the title of the film and the political setting of the story, this is essentially a coming-of-tale and less of a commentary on the demise of communism in East Germany. The fall of the Berlin wall serves only as a backdrop to the maturing of the young protagonist. So as not to ostracise his audience writer/director Becker wisely and cleverly, doesn’t side with either East German communism or West German capitalism but instead, skilfully crafts a bittersweet satire and nostalgic tale of life from both sides of the country. He’s also helped immeasurably by two emotionally understated performances from his lead actors; Daniel Bruhl and Katrin Saas.
I was aware of this film when it was released but it should never have taken me as long as it has to get around to viewing it. Now, I’m just glad and hope that others don’t make the same mistake of ignoring this profound and poignant pleasure.