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Goodbye Lenin!

The German Democratic Republic lives on – in 79 square metres! 

Year: 2003 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (XWide) 
Certificate: BBFC 15 Cert – Not suitable for under 15s 
Subtitles: It is expected that this film is fully subtitled. 
Directed by Wolfgang Becker 
Starring: Daniel Brühl, Katrin Saß, Chulpan Khamatova  
An image from Goodbye Lenin!

Christiane (Saß), a die-hard party supporter, falls into a coma shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall. 8 months later, she regains consciousness, and the world around her has changed. In her weakened state, the shock of the regime’s collapse could be fatal for Christiane. Her son Alex (Brühl) decides to hide the truth from his mother for as long as possible, and sets up an elaborate deception to convince her that the Wall is still standing and the party is still in power. As western products, clothing, music and advertising begin to flood the city, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain the illusion, and soon Alex begins creating fake news broadcasts with his film-obsessed friend Denis (Florian Lukas) to explain away any odd occurrences that his mother may have noticed.

This film paints a rich and evocative portrait of a fascinating period of history, capturing the clash of different ideologies and the radical changes which transformed Eastern Europe. Rather than utterly dismissing the old regime, the characters convey a certain nostalgia for the communist ideology and the impact that it had on shaping German culture. The film explores aspects of globalisation, presenting the sudden appearance of brands such as Coca-Cola as signposts in the country’s transition to capitalism.

For eager-eyed film fans, there are various cinematic references peppered throughout the film, not least a light-hearted parody of the famous bone throwing in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Interestingly, there is an anachronistic reference to The Matrix (look out for the famous green pattern on Denis’s t-shirt) although the series only began ten years after the period in which Good Bye Lenin! is set. Thematically, however, the allusion works, drawing a link between the simulated universe explored in The Matrix and the alternative reality that Alex creates to protect his mother.

Shoshana Eilon

Good Bye Lenin follows a family, tangled in the midst of Germany’s most eventful period of early 90s. The fall of the Berlin Wall triggers the request for the nation to forget 40 years of dogma overnight, and to do so with a coke and a “Burger King Smile”. Although often comic, this is essentially a melancholy tale about Germany’s most turbulent times and individual’s struggle to cope with undesired changes.

Christiane, a devoted East German Communist who works to improve the state, is left to raise her two children alone. After seeing her son Alex at a demonstration, she falls into an eight-month coma and, while asleep, many drastic changes happen. Once he learns that a slightest disturbance could cause his mother another, this time fatal heart-attack, Alex is determined to spare her of the most devastating news she could possibly receive; that the German Democratic Party is no longer.

Good Bye Lenin is more than a tale of political changes. The film’s social satire does not judge Christiane’s belief, but rather mocks the system that demanded it. Alex’s persistent devotion to his mother, based on sanctuary and security, is the same kind of devotion his mother had for the state; and Alex is well aware of this.

Once Alex manufactures an almost believable alternative history, Good Bye Lenin provocatively echoes the ability to reshape reality and reflects the subjectivity of the truth. Director Wolfgang Becker uses this to represent the political system back in the days of East Germany, or in fact, any system and belief we may live by. Even though the socio-political content of the movie is important, its real value lies in the exploration of the individual, who shows how no external changes could ever measure up to changes happening in one’s private life. The well developed characters are the soul of the film and give it its charm. Becker’s satire mocks both systems of the reunified Germany; capitalism and communism, but he is careful not to take either side. Rather, his focus is simply on the individual, making the movie much more personal, and striking a chord with a wider audience.

This high rated film is sure to leave you with strong emotions, be it tears or joy, anger or tranquility. Few are left feeling indifferent or disappointed by the film that left its mark on German modern cinematography.

Nika Lukovic

‘Goodbye, Lenin!’ has been showered with praise, and is tipped to win a number of accolades as one of the best foreign language films of the year.  The story centres on the life of one family in Berlin, as the dramatic events of 1989 grip the city and communism fades away.   This family is unique, though, as the mother remains blissfully unaware of the changes to her country.   Christiane Kerner (Saß) suffers a heart attack and is in a coma for the crucial eight months, as the Berlin Wall falls and the country is united.   Christiane was devoted to communism before her illness, and son Alex (Brühl) recreates East Germany in his mother’s room, out of fear she will relapse due to the shock.   With the help of friends, neighbours and family he develops elaborate ways of maintaining the East Germany his mother was so proud of.  As the farce grows, we discover that Alex is not the only one hiding a huge secret, and the life of the family is more complicated than at first thought.

The film throws up a number of interesting issues.  Obviously it has a huge historical significance, showing how people dealt with the impact of unification in Germany, and questioning the level of improvement experienced by those in the east.   It pokes gentle fun at both communism and capitalism, as both sides collide in Berlin.  It also shows the love and devotion of Alex as he cares for his mother and goes to extreme lengths to protect her from the truth, but also questions whether this was the right thing to do...  All of this is dealt with in a highly amusing way; the film is often poignant yet has some hilarious scenes.

Daniel Brühl’s performance has been highly praised, and rightly so.  His portrayal of Alex as a son driven to extreme measures for his beloved mother is excellent, but Alex has other problems to contend with as the film
develops - his love life, career and absent father give the film heavier emotional significance.

The gritty portrayal of Berlin is a stunning backdrop to the film, as are the visual contrasts between the plain and bland decoration of East Germany and the glamour of the West.  This film is a delight, both funny and touching, showing the attempts of one man to change history - on a limited scale at least!

Kathryn Hand

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Screenings of this film:

2003/2004 Spring Term (35mm)
2007/2008 Autumn Term (35mm)
2010/2011 Spring Term (35mm)