Featured Post

The Man from Earth (reviewed by Ben)

You’ve probably noticed that most of the movies we review on this page are successful, or at least well-known. So you might be surprised th...

Monday, October 3, 2016

Goodby Lenin (reviewed by Dad)

This 2003 German charmer is set in East Germany, just before the “East” is dropped when the Berlin Wall fell and both halves of the country were united as simply “Germany.”

Years earlier, Mutter (played by Katrin Sab) was abandoned by her husband who defected to the West, leaving her to raise two children, Alex (played by Daniel Brühl) and his sister Lara, on her own. After emerging from nearly catatonic grief, she finds a renewed commitment to life by throwing herself into Party work, becoming an exemplary “comrade” in Erich Honecker’s East German “socialist paradise.”

The kids grow up to become working-class cogs in Berlin’s Communist economy, adding interest in the opposite sex to their repertoire as adolescence turned to  young adulthood. One such romantic pursuit leads Alex to one of the protest marches that broke out in Germany as the ripple effects of Gorbachev's Perestroika (reform) program reached the rest of the Warsaw Pact.

Unfortunately for Alex, his inadvertent participation the march led to a beating by the East German police, followed by arrest (all without reaching the girl).  Double unfortunately, Comrade Mom was on the street where the march and police attack took place, and watching her son get clobbered and dragged away caused her to have a heart attack and fall into a coma.

A lot takes place during her months-long coma (from which doctors said she would never recover), including the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of Communism and the reunification of Germany.  The kids roll with these changes, moving from earlier meaningless jobs to far more meaningful careers installing TV satellite dishes and working in a fast-food drive-through.  And, as it turns out, Mom’s nurse was the very girl Alex previously pursued (and subsequently caught during one of his many visits to the hospital to be by his mother’s side).

Just as they kiss, however, Mom springs from her coma - a miraculous recovery.  The only problem is that her fragile condition means that any shock (such as finding that her beloved Soviet system no longer exists) could trigger another heart attack and kill her.  Faced with this choice, Alex takes the only reasonable course of action (for a comedy movie script anyway): moving his mom back home and doing everything in his power to prevent her from discovering that history has transformed her world.

As it turns out, Alex is remarkably resourceful in maintaining this illusion, beginning with scrounging for East Germany food packaging into which he could stuff the West German (I mean German) products that had replaced Socialist pickles and coffee.  As time moves on and his mother becomes more lucid (and suspicious), his deceptions escalate.

This long set-up of a seemingly comedic premise might obscure the amount of heart in this picture.  Each character is endearing in his or her own way, even as they expend tremendous energy  hiding the truth from one another.  

Sab and Brühl are particularly good at combining warmth, intensity and eccentricity as they create the reality-distortion fields the family has shared for their whole lives.  And the subtle messages the filmmakers deliver are as complex as the power of nostalgia to make us long for what once made us miserable, and the way familial love can be communicated through deeds and glances, rather than words.  

Ben replies: The interesting premise, a great script, and impressive visuals (like the scene where the mother runs out of her apartment to see a changed world) fortunately make up for uninspiring acting. It’s a great mix of comedy and seriousness. Although it’s a slower-moving film that makes it better for more mature audiences, it has a lighter touch than you’d likely find in more “family” films. Certainly a strong candidate for your viewing.

No comments: