“A wicked red comedy about the inevitability of CHANGE and what happens when someone tries way too hard to resist.”
REVIEW (text version)
The border is dissolving, Germany is unifying and Mamma is in a coma.
That’s the essential set-up for this wicked red comedy about the inevitability of change and what happens when someone tries way too hard to resist that change.
Christiane is a true believer in hard core socialism, integral to her life and the life of her two young Children. Well, it’s the 1970’s and the great divide of culture, politics and paranoia is at its height. Mother is a woman of letters, in that she writes them, endlessly, informing government officials and the general populace of their duties to the state in every part of their lives.
She’s a dedicated teacher and instills all the correct principles into her students. In short, she’s pretty much a pain in the neck but what writers Wolfgang Becker and Bernd Lichenberg have done is created a nuanced character who does make sense – you come to understand why she is the way she is.
Forward ten years and little has changed. East Berlin is pretty much in a loop where time stands still except the kids are now grown up and Mother’s deep commitments and weak heart overwhelm her, she becomes ill, falls into a coma, and when she reemerges there are just a few changes to the world she has known and so totally embraced.
Adult son, Alex, is warned by appropriately concerned medical specialists that any shock could kill Mother. What could be a greater shock to her than discovering there is open collaboration with the Capitalists? Not just the end for civilization but this could be the end for Mother!
To ensure Mother survives, Alex has a major challenge on his hands – not letting Mother find out any of this – he has to convince her the wall stills stands and life goes on as she had known.
OK it sounds like a flimsy farce of a premise but it is all so beautifully executed, and the shark jump happens so early in the film, we are are very happy to go along for the ride. Alex sets out to create an illusionary world around his Mother involve his sister who has embraced the changes with lightning speed and total thoroughness… and further expands to have Mother’s friends and neighbours becoming part of the charade, even manipulating the media coming into her home to ensure certain events the entire world knows about are muted from Mother’s “new” reality.
There is a romantic subplot as Alex attempts to disentangle himself from the apron strings and find happiness with a young nurse, and a cheeky and bitter-sweet back story about Father who defected to the West some time ago. Again, Mother’s delusions contrast sharply with the truth that ultimately unravels.
The characters are so whimsical and the casting is so completely spot on, you are prepared to go along with the absurdity of the hypothesis and connect with the humour and the heart of the film.
Daniel Brühl as Alex gained a major career boost with this film, going on to appear in the Maggie and Judi nana movie vehicle “Ladies in Lavender”, Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglorious Bastards”, and eventually kidnapped by mainstream Hollywood to perform in a Marvel Super Hero Movie – see actors have no moral standards.
Standout performance too… subtle and so funny is Katrin Saß as Mother, who deservedly won Best Actress at the German Film Awards… and there were many other gongs for the film’s cast and crew at festivals around the globe.
In fact this was not a film that fell between the cracks at all – hey it even had a pretty healthy cinema run, especially in Europe, and made money – shock I know… It also falls outside of the criteria of a film released in the past ten years – so why am I reviewing it? “…. like, come on Greg, you only review flops, failures and fizzers that no one has seen and most people don’t care to see…” well, I just really like this one and I know a LOT of people have heard of it but not taken the plunge… so this is a gentle push… in that direction… “…but like you have to read what the actors are saying on the bottom of the screen and everything…” well, yes you do but suck it in Sunshine – man up and give it a try!
Now, something to savor in Goodbye Lenin is the cleverness in the set dressing and costuming… I’ve never been to Germany – East or West – but after the experience of this film I believed I’d lived through the turmoil of the time transitions with these characters due to the unflinching commitment to detail lavished on the props, the locations and the wallpapers.
The epic dagginess of the not-so-distant past is carefully curated, as are the hairstyles and proliferation of popular fashion on display as the East tries oh, so hard, to look as fashion conscious as the West and most fetching in shoulder pads and denim skirts… Yes, the art department and costumers have worked overtime here making the period a character in its own coming of age film.
Now I’ve seen this film described as a drama… IMDB lists it as a “DRAMA”… what? Granted, movies about people in comas and references to the Berlin Wall are not usually side splitters but did someone out there not read the sub titles? not look at the actor’s faces? not realise that German’s can be funny?
Goodbye Lenin is a very conscious comment on the muddle of capitalism, the shredded substance of socialism, and the chaos often found when conformity becomes the driver on one’s personal existence. Laugh out loud? Maybe not, but you will certainly smile broadly.
(review text © Greg Punch, 2017)
Production company (review):
Film “Goodbye Lenin” Producer:
X Verleih AG (Germa
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From the sound track of “Goodbye Lenin”, the “William Tell Overture by Rossini
Other incidental music from the film by…
Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
“Danse Macabre – Big Hit 1”
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Interview with writer director Wolfgang Becker…
Very worthy review and exploration of the early success of the film in Germany. Contains a very quotable line in, “Yearning for communist kitsch” 🙂
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