Goodbye Lenin

Hope, fraternity and heart-warming sentiments are given the same amount of attention as the red Soviet-like political background in this dramatic comedy about fading dreams and how to carry on, when an everchanging world insists on showing us how tiny and helpless we really are.

In Germany’s official contender for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, Alexander Kerner lives with his fatherless family in a small apartment in East Germany. After his mother, a strong supporter of the communist party, suffers a heart attack unintentionally caused by him — which puts her in a coma for almost an year — he is told by the doctors that she cannot experience strong emotions. Alexander has a difficult task. During that period, not only the entire world is changed, since the Berlin Wall has fallen along with everything his mother believed, but also himself and his sister have also become new people. The latter, for instance, has dropped college to work for Burger King, an icon of everything that is evil and wrong according to Mrs. Kerner!

What begins as a naive lie invented by the main character to not expose his mother’s fragile heart to the new harsh reality that surrounds them after the comunist regime has fallen, is transformed into a elaborate charade that develops a life of its own. For instance, young Kerner reaches a point where he even has to produce fake TV shows using a VHS camera and hire people who pretend to be government officials to fool the woman, for her own good. A colorful and perfect world is created by him to replace the not so beautiful reality.

But now Alexander has to feed this monster on a daily basis. And, in his spare time, find a meaning to his own life in this new world where his childhood hero, an astronaut, drives a taxi for a living.

Can Alexander keep up forever with this perfect world he has createdr If so, does this mean he really want tor Though it may sound strange, these questions don’t really matter. “Goodbye Lenin,” like similar themed films such as Life is Beautiful” and “Jakob the Liar,” truly focuses on showing how faith and even happiness can prevail when a group of people unite under a common goal, even though the goal is known to be a fake.

The man’s relationship problems with his sister, his and her quests to find their place in the world, the grudges which arose when his father left home, in their childhood, never to return. All these questions, and many more, will find their answers through the effort involved in the sustainment of the pretense.

A clever and spirited script as the basis for a talented execution make “Goodbye Lenin” a very good film and a strong contender for a Best Foreign Language Film nomination. Especially considering that the USSR dust has finally settled and giving a controversial film like this one an Oscar nomination, an award per se, will not be considered a felony.

Let’s not jump the gun, though. Not every part of the film is shiny. What didn’t work:

  • The first half of the first act, particularly the opening sequence, give a much darker tone to the story than the one it truly holds afterwards. The bittersweet narrative may be wrongly “felt” as simply bitter by some.
  • Despite the light atmosphere under which the “oblivous-mom situation” is often shown, a deceit will always be a deceit. The more one thinks about the main character’s compulsive lack of sincereness the lessen the beauty of the story will hold.
  • The direction, when it comes to camera work, is essentially traditional. Perhaps trying to give the film’s look a more 2000-ish appearance, a few Bullet-time effects were incorporated. Bizarrely incorporated. A few purists will be disturbed by them, though most viewers simply won’t care.
  • The film is a little bit too long. Especially some scenes in the second act. Though necessary to the development of the story, they seem to be endlessly repeated, as if the director wanted to be absolutely sure the audience has already gotten into the wanted “mood”, required by the final act.

    Side Note for the Political-Minded: Although the film is mostly critic towards the Communist way of life, it is not an apology to the harsh and cruel capitalism either. In a given scene, for instance, a character, when facing the new, praised by most, regime, instead of diving rightaway into a life of self pleasuring consumerism says something in the vein of: “-Life shouldn’t be all about buying jeans pants…”. It is probable that many viewers will not agree on wether the film is clearly a biased anti-communist piece or a fair dispassionate political analysis. The mere fact that the movie allow such distinct opinions to co-exist can serve as an example of the three dimensionality of the work.

    Directed by Wolfgang Becker
    Genre: Drama, Comedy
    Runtime: 121 minutes.
    Rated R for brief language and sexuality. Editor’s Note: This film premieres today at the Sundance Film Festival.

    Rating: A-