Written by Wolfgang Becker and Bernd Lichtenberg
Directed by Wolfgang Becker
Starring Daniel BrÃ¼hl, Kathrin Sass, Chulpan Khamatova, Maria Simon, Florian Lukas
- Running audio commentary by director Wolfgang Becker
- Running audio commentary by Daniel Bruhl, Katrin Sass, and Alexander Beyer
- Deleted scenes with optional director audio commentary
- Uncut “Aktuelle Kamera” broadcasts
- Mini making-of featurette
- Visual-effects featurette: “Lenin Learns to Fly”
Released by: Sony Pictures Classics.
My Advice: Rent It.
Children and their parents usually become opposites. Christiane (Sass) is a true believer in the ideals of the communist regime in East Berlin, if not their methods, writing earnest but sharp complaint letters for her neighbors and volunteering for the Young Pioneers (the communist version of the Boy Scouts). Alex (BrÃ¼hl), her son, is an affable but unmotivated slacker with a low stress job repairing ancient TVs who goes to protest marches to have something to do instead of actually believing in anything. It’s at one of these marches that Alex runs into Lara (Khamatova), a lovely nursing student from Russia, while running afoul of the cops busting up the march by busting some heads.
Christiane happens on this scene of the dark side of Soviet style communism and has a near fatal heart attack. While she languishes in a coma, East Germany falls to the forces of capitalism and Alex and his sister Ariane (Simon) embrace it with open arms. But when their mother awakens months later, they have a dilemma. The doctor says she can’t have any shocks in her conditions, like finding out her world has been turned upside down. So while Christiane recovers at home, Alex maintains the illusion that the German Democratic Republic is alive and well with East German labels on West German food and news broadcasts on tape provided by his friend Denis (Lukas). Fueled by love and guilt, Alex’s illusion becomes harder to maintain when everyone else is saying “Good Bye Lenin!”
Everyone tells stories. They can be true or false or somewhere in between. We tell them about other people and about ourselves all to come to grips with the randomness of life. That is the overarching theme of this movie. The director used the backdrop of the historic collapse of the communist regime in East Germany and its reunification but it is the Kerner family that we focus on. The fake world that Alex created for his mother could be an analogy for the fake world the East German government tried to create for its people. And their absent father can also represent the barely remembered West Germany, now uncomfortably reuniting after all these years. Still, the story and the characters are not merely symbols, but strong enough on their own to sustain the movie.
Alex is initially motivated to create this fantasy because of his love for his mother and his grief due to possibly causing her heart attack. He also doesn’t want another love affair his mother is involved in to turn bad. But as the lie gets bigger and bigger, Alex could be trying to keep his mother the same while everything and everyone around him is changing. While most of the changes are positive, they are still disconcerting and a mother represents for most people the calm eye of an emotional hurricane. By keeping his mother in the dark, Alex keeps her from getting swept up.
Some could say that Alex’s mother is more susceptible since she is a supporter of Soviet style communism in East Germany. That’s too simplistic. She believes in a government that supports the workers, not the corporations and that is ruled by solidarity, not mass marketing. But she does see that the reality has flaws. Several scenes have her writing polite but cutting compliant letters and she disapproved of people escaping to the West instead of trying to fix the problems in the East. And the movie is set in motion to her extreme reaction to witnessing police brutality to a peaceful protest. Christiane is really an idealist, not a mindless ideologue.
The acting is all top notch, with special credit to Kathrin Sass who had to act in bed for most of the movie and therefore limited in the actions she could express. She still shows the great strength and hidden vulnerability of the character. Daniel BrÃ¼hl does well with Alex, a sweet man-boy who is just so earnest, you both want to comfort him in your arms and smack across the head at the same time. But he still shows us the conflicting emotions he’s dealing with under his face. The director also gives special attention to the unsung character of the film, East Berlin. Seeing this city in flux from Cold War isolation to becoming part of Europe is something most of us in America never got to see. The director shows all the excitement, the fear, and the resentment of capitalism coming in full stream ahead. While he never endorses the old Soviet system, he’s not a free market supporter either. He does give a balanced view of the changes happening, good and bad.
Good God, but this thing is chock full of extras. There’s a making of featurette that’s more like a music video so you can ignore that. The deleted scenes are especially nice. First, they’re like ten of them. Second, they are book ended with actual footage from the movie so you can see the scene in context. And the commentary for those scenes is actually a featurette all by itself with the film editor and the director discussing the specific reasoning for removing a scene and the whole philosophy behind cutting scenes you love.
Also shown uncut are the various simulated news programs that show the communist German government alive and well. The technical featurette talks primarily about the difficulty to create a statue of Lenin being flown overhead by a helicopter with computer animation. This leads into showing how much had to be done digitally to stimulate Berlin during the Fall after over a decade. Little effects that go unnoticed, like the giant Coke banner being unfurled from the building next door, which looked real to me until they showed it was CGI and blue screen.
The first commentary is by the director, Woflgang Becker. This is a very detailed discussion of how the movie got made, especially all the troubles. From crappy weather to a pregnant co-star, this was not the easiest production to film. Still, he managed to get the best out of the situation and the actors. He even slapped Daniel BrÃ¼hl to get him to cry, at BrÃ¼hl’s insistence. He also talks about his directorial decisions, like deemphasizing the relationship between Alex and Lara so as not to create a false conflict between the mother and Lara for Alex’s affection.
The second one with three of the actors, Daniel BrÃ¼hl, Kathrin Sass, and Florian Lukas, is a bit more chatty and conversational. They talk about some material already dealt with in the Becker commentary and, although it seems genuine, has a bit too much “happy talk” for my liking. Still, it is interesting to hear about the production from their point of view. So with good extras to go with a good movie, you should say “Hello” to Good Bye Lenin.