Good Bye Lenin!

Following the fall of European Communism, a loving son (Daniel Brühl) brings back the Iron Curtain, or at least a cheap facsimile of it, for the sake of his deathbed-ridden Socialist mom. That's the plot of Good Bye Lenin!, a tricky but surprisingly successful blend of goofy political farce and sober family drama. Set in East Berlin before, during, and after Eastern Bloc Communism's rapid retreat, Good Bye Lenin! centers on a family whose disintegration echoes Germany's fracture into two competing political systems. Following the father's defection to the West, the clan's saintly mother (Katrin Saß, effortlessly exuding moral authority) throws herself into good citizenship, striving to embody Marxism's noblest aspects in the midst of near-universal cynicism and hopelessness. As East German Communism enters its death throes, Saß suffers a heart attack and lapses into a life-threatening coma. By the time she awakens eight months later, communism has been trammeled by the shock troops of capitalism, which leave a gaudy array of Coca-Cola insignias, Burger Kings, and Western consumer goods in their wake. Warned by his mother's doctor that even the slightest change in her lifestyle might induce a fatal heart attack, Brühl sets about constructing an environment in which communism still reigns. With the help of a coworker, Brühl forms a two-man propaganda team whose hilarious, videotaped faux-newscasts expertly mimic the dreary production values, rampant jingoism, and deluded worldview of Cold War-era communist television. The film has a smartly cynical sense of humor about both capitalism and communism, but it's refreshingly un-cynical about the quixotic idealism that fueled the fervor of Marxism's zealots. The death of Soviet-style communism brought an end to a repressive, failed system, but it also marked the death of a noble social experiment, and the film wrings well-earned pathos out of the unbridgeable gap between the true believers' values and the grim conditions of life under communism. Good Bye Lenin! is idealistic enough to mourn the death of the Soviet dream without sugarcoating the realities that made its demise necessary.

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