Good Bye Lenin

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Movie Review by Stephen Doyle

Starring: Daniel Bruhl, Katrin Sass, Maria Simon, Chulpan Khamatova, Florian Lukas
Director: Wolfgang Becker

GOOD BYE LENIN! is the latest offering from our great European friends, the Germans, which should be enough to ensure it a long and prosperous commercial run through-out UK cinemas. Or not, as the case may be. Indeed not many people in the UK are going to see this movie, which is fine by me, as it means I get to keep this considerable gem of a movie all to myself.

The title of this movie, along with a brief look at the synopsis, led me to believe I was in for an austere polemical piece about communism. Instead I was treated to a remarkably satisfying piece which, with warm nostalgia and gentle humour, weaves an ingenious comedy scenario with an affecting personal drama and a fascinating historical background of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Maria (Katrin Sass), a committed socialist living in East Berlin just before the walls fall in 1989, has a severe heart attack that puts her into a coma. When she emerges from the coma eight months later her grown up son and daughter are warned by the doctor that her state is fragile and that any shocks or surprises may bring on another heart attack. How, then, are her children to tell that while she was unconscious the Berlin wall came down and that communism in East Berlin has been overthrown by capitalism? Her hapless and scruffy (but still oddly charming) son, Alex (Daniel Bruhl), decides, along with his sister, that this news could prove fatal to their fragile mother. So they embark on a massive cover-up which increases in hilarity and preposterousness as the film goes on.

This is all filmed with a wonderfully inviting lightness of touch by director Wolfgang Becker, a touch which reminded me of Swedish director Lukas Moodysson and his first two features – SHOW ME LOVE and TOGETHER. All the characters are realistic and well drawn, which means we care for them, and for the unfolding drama. The performances from the two leads are excellent. Katrin Sass, as Maria, spends most of the film lying in a bed while her character recovers from her heart attack, yet she still manages to captivate. Meanwhile Daniel Bruhl turns in a touching performance as Maria’s son who, selflessly, goes to extraordinary lengths to help his dying mother. And in the comic scenes he proves a formidable comic actor: he never overdoes it, and his comic timing and delivery are spot on.

This is a comedy drama of the first order, the comedy being witty and well-observed, and the drama being heartfelt and moving. Mention must be made of the amazing score which intensifies the action no end. Look at the simply priceless sequence, for example, when a bewildered Maria watches a statue of Lenin being airlifted out of Berlin.

GOOD BYE LENIN! ends up being one of those great things – a film all about dying which still manages to be uplifting. I left the cinema positively walking on air.

6 out of 6 stars