Good Bye, Lenin (2003)

Rated PG-13 Our content rating V-1; L-2; S/N-1.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak… Ecclesiastes 3:1-7

Good Bye, Lenin

Wolfgang Becker’s poignant comedy is an amusing take on the nature of change and how unsettling it can be, even if the old ways involved much fear and hardship. Christiane Kerner (Katrin Sass) is a teacher and an active member of the East German Communist Party in 1989. She is constantly writing letters to the authorities to correct wrongs that she detects. She has struggled hard to raise by herself her teenaged son Alex (Daniel Bruhl) and slightly older daughter Ariane (Maria Simon) because her doctor husband, she explains to them, left her to pursue a romance with another woman in the more prosperous West.

Things are changing even in East Germany, Alex joining in a crowd protesting against the government. That same night Christiane is all dressed up, walking in the street on her way to a Party Awards dinner. She sees the police rushing at the crowd and freely using their truncheons. To her horror she sees Alex being hit while the police drag him toward their van. She cries out and the drops to the street. Alex, seeing her fall, tries to get to her, but the police will not let go of him. Later, he is called out of his cell with the news about his mother.

Rushing to the hospital, Alex is distressed to learn that she has had a heart attack and has sunk into a coma. She does not respond to any of his attempts to communicate with her. Months pass by, during which Alex becomes friendly with the compassionate nurse who tenderly cares for Christianne. Lara (Chulpan Khamatova), a Russian émigré, is slowly drawn to Alex, at first impressed by his devotion to his mother, and then to Alex himself. Matters are changing outside the hospital alsoppthe Berlin Wall falls, and soon the government of dictator Eric Honecker. People and products, as well as ideas, flow back and forth across the border.

Directed by; written by Becker, Bernd Lichtenberg; photographed by Martin Kukula; edited by Peter R. Adam; sets designed by Lothar Holler; music by Yann Tiersen; produced by Stefan Arndt. In German and English, with English subtitles. A Sony Pictures Classics release; opens Friday, March 26. Running time: 1:58. MPAA rating: R (brief language and sexuality). Ariane and husband Rainer (Alexander Beyer) are making plans for their own household, and even Alex and Lara have found an abandoned aprtment where they can meet for privacy.

And then Christiane emerges from her coma. In private the doctor warns Alex that he must protect his mother from any shock, lest it be too much for her weak heart. Thus Alex vows to keep his mother ignorant of the great changes going on outside. His sister is not keen on the idea, but she joins Lara and Rainer in helping to keep Christiane in the dark about the fall of the Party and the East German government. This is somewhat easy in the hospital, but when his mother begs to go home, the ruse proves more complicated. This means recovering their old furniture from the street where they had dumped it to make room for newer furnishings from the West.

They rush Mother from the ambulance and up the stairs into her room before she can see the changes out of doors. Alex buys from a street vendor, an impoverished former soldier, a collection of old newspapers, which he brings to Christiane each day, one copy at a time. We laugh, but Alex is horrified when his mother sees a huge Coca-Cola banner being unfurrled on the building across the street. When she asks about this Capitalist symbol, Alex quickly makes up a storylater telling her that Coke is being admitted into the Worker’s Paradise because it was discovered that the original formula had been invented by a worker in East Berlin, and not Atlanta. Alex even has to enlist his friend Denis (Florian Lukas) to simulate newscasts when his mother clamors for a television set.

The film manages to both suggest that not all is good about the fall of Communismthat the rush to re-unite Germany involves the acceptance of a material commercialism that might be as dangerous for the soul as the old state totalitarianism was, as well as losing the idealism of those who believed in the goals of the old Party, if not its methods. Alex and Ariane are also in for a big surprise when their mother lets them in on a secret she has harbored for years.

We expect there to be a last confrontation in which the truth finally comes out and Christiane, like the rest of her countrymen, must deal with the stark changesgood and bad. This would heva been difficult to write, and so our director settles for a very sentimental climax, and this might be the major flaw in an otherwise satisfying film.