Despite being inarguably one of the most important events in the late 20th century, most depictions of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany are done from a West German perspective, the perspective of the free and capitalist Germany that openly shared its borders with the world at large. I don’t think I’ve seen a film yet that dealt with the event from an East German viewpoint, the Germany that remained closed to the world after WWII due to Soviet and Cold War influences. Good Bye Lenin, a film by Wolfgang Becker, does exactly that, and quite frankly, it would have been hard to make it any better.
Daniel Bruhl stars as Alex Kerner, who lives with his older sister and mother in East Germany just prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Their family is a devout socialist one, due to the mother having been left by their father for the West which caused her to devote her life to the Party. When she suffers a heart attack and falls into a coma, the Wall falls, and Western civilization finally arrives in East Germany, all while she sleeps. When she finally wakes, everything has changed, but she doesn’t know it; following the doctor’s advice that any other sudden shock may trigger a fatal second heart attack, Alex and sister Ariane decide to revert their apartment to their pre-Fall lives, keeping up an elaborate charade to make their mother think the world hasn’t changed at all. It’s a very interesting premise, and it’s thanks to the film’s high level of cinematic knowledge and technique that it is able to work as well as it does. Becker knows his stuff, and he utilizes an impressively wide range of tools to keep the levity of the mood high; too often do films go the directly sombre route when dealing with serious material, but Good Bye Lenin opts instead for a dose of humor and a whimsical view of the events that transpire. I don’t know if I would call this a “feel-good film”, but by the end I had a definite smile on my face, and not just because the story was so well told; there was just an awful lot to like about this film, through and through.
I don’t remember if this was one of the films to be removed from later editions, a decision I would be against even if I could understand why, but it does show up in the new 10th edition, so there’s some vindication in that. I’d think that the reasoning behind removing it would be solely to make it easier on the editors to have to reshape the Book by removing the films from the end of the tome rather than the beginning; a reasoning supported by the new edition’s per-decade arrangement having the 2000s be as small if not smaller than the 1920s, previously the shortest decade outside the still-fresh 2010s. To me, that’s a little unfair to the first ten years of the new millennium, making it seem as though there were just too few films from that period that are worthy enough to be called “must see experiences”. That’s a debate I could see myself arguing for either side fairly competently, but every time I see a film from that era as good as Good Bye Lenin was, I feel myself swinging in that particular direction, and it’s easy to see why. I’m still holding out for the remaining films of the still-new millennium; if Good Bye Lenin is any indication, I won’t be holding out for naught.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10