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It is quite interesting that I have been privy to three movies dealing with amateur filmmaking within a very short span this year. While Be Kind Rewind and Son of Rambow utilized the form for comedic purposes, the German film from 2003, Good Bye Lenin! differs slightly, even though humor is the main result. With a pretty creative premise, a pro-East German woman falls into a coma during the eight months of the fall of the Berlin Wall and her son and daughter must try to keep her calm by pretending the delineation still exists, director Wolfgang Becker lets his characters make up their own news in order to explain some of the craziness that is occurring, (the Coke banner being the funniest cause we all know the drink was created by the Communists). The plot is very unique and never feels like a gimmick, but instead a way to show the evolution of this broken and politically divided family. All that they have grown to know, the freedoms that the fall has brought, must be pushed aside in order to keep the matriarch from slipping back into a coma or worse. It is a painstaking process and one that needs the entire neighborhood’s help. What could have become a farce or depressing melodrama actually straddles the line perfectly, creating a heartwarming piece of work about understanding one another and the power of love.

I guess beginning this review with the fact of amateur filmmaking is a tad misleading. The process is a very small part of the proceedings, however, those moments are my favorite. Florian Lukas, a West German young man who is paired with the East German lead, Alex, played by Daniel Brühl, in their satellite TV job, is brilliant as the burgeoning filmmaker. He even says how the fake news is the best stuff he has ever cut and Alex’s mother is the only person who will ever see it. The laughs are big during the sequences of videos as live news, but I think the final scene is the true masterpiece. While watching the last news segment at the end of the film, knowing what every character knows and doesn’t know pertaining to each other, we as an audience are treated to the most powerful non-verbal moment of the entire work. Seeing his mother look at Alex holds so much meaning and emotion, those short glances are a culmination of everything that has happened previously.

Despite the laughs sprinkled throughout, this film is really a drama containing many political ideas both on the governmental scale and in the home. You don’t learn at the start about how much strife was caused by Christiane’s, (Alex’s mother portrayed by Katrin Sass), political slant. Raising her son and daughter after her husband has run off to the West becomes her mission only after her petitions and work for the Republic are done. She doesn’t realize that her own son starts harboring opposite ideals nor that her country is holding back any source of progression. Her political affiliation has caused a lot of hardship in the Kerner family and her coma actually began to relieve some of it. Her daughter Ariane, (Maria Simon), finds a new boyfriend from the West, a job at Burger King, and the energy to live rather than stew in college when she didn’t want to. Alex spends his days at her bedside, much like he did during her breakdown after their father left, finding a relationship with her nurse, a new job for a Western company, and a friendship with his crazy filmmaking partner. When she wakes up—commencing the meticulous system of hiding everything Western—is where the wheels fall off, everyone needing to stop their lives to keep her healthy. But, in the end, it is this standstill that allows each one to stop and take a look at where they are in life, and to decide what to do with what’s left.

While the acting is superb across the board and the story is intriguing, the visuals definitely add a layer of expertise. A lot of coincidence is infused in the story, allowing different things to be in the background so that they can eventually be found. From Alex’s girlfriend, first seen at a protest and then again at his mother’s hospital bed; the jar of pickles being searched for throughout to finally be seen as a water jar for painting; and the subtle moments like a red dot sticker and the last time to convert Eastern currency coming back later on, Becker really makes you pay attention to all that happens on the periphery. And some sequences are just shot beautifully, like the aforementioned Coke banner drop and the helicopter moving of a Lenin statue through the sky…fantastic to watch, very surreal.

Good Bye Lenin! 9/10

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photography:
[1] Daniel Bruhl as Alex, Katrin Sass as Alex’s Mother (Christiane Kerner), Maria Simon as Ariane. Photo by Conny Klein. ©2003 Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc.
[2] Florian Lukas as Dennis.

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