Good Bye, Lenin! (2003)

Directed by Wolfgang Becker
Written by Bernd Lichtenberg & Wolfgang Becker

This year I completed the 100 series of German language courses at my university, and what a fun experience that was. Learning a language is so much fun, especially one as fun as German. But along with learning the language, you also learn a great deal of culture, which is a fascinating journey in better understanding a foreign culture. Communism and the split between East and West in Germany will remain a part of history and since the West won out, it will be the West’s story that is told, but films like “Good Bye, Lenin!” stand as great documents of the lost culture of East Germany. They also stand to prove that nostalgia exists in all forms, even for communism.

I first saw this film last year with a friend of mine who was a German minor in college. I love foreign films and had heard great things about this film, so it seemed like the perfect movie night. I enjoyed the film a great deal back then, but with a recent rewatch at the end of my German 103 class, my appreciation has grown a great deal.

Alex Kerner (Daniel Brühl) is a twenty something young man who lives in East Germany with his mother Christiane (Katrin Saß), who is extremely proud of her communist affiliation and country, and his sister Ariane (Maria Simon). But when Mrs. Kerner goes into an unexpected coma for 8 months, Germany, East and West, changes. The Berlin wall falls and communism along with it. Germany has been reunified. The catch? Mrs. Kerner has finally awoken with the help of her nurse Lara (Chulpan Khamatova), who soon becomes Alex’s new girlfriend. In order to avoid another life threatening heart attack, Alex must recreate East Germany in their apartment so that his mother does not receive such a shock as the loss of her communist motherland.

The film is generally billed as a comedy, and now knowing as much German culture as I do now, it is very much so a comedy, but for the casual American viewer the film may seem much more like a drama. And that is why the film succeeds as much as it does; it seamlessly blends great comedic moments with great dramatic setting and scenes. The situation is hysterical as Alex must jump through numerous hoops in order to keep his mother in good health. At the same time it is an extremely touching situation, as he shows great love and appreciation for his mother.

The other characters in the film are extremely well developed as well. The sister, Lara, and even their father, who plays a minor role in the proceedings, are all fully fleshed out. The acting is spectacular all around too, comedic and dramatic, and it all starts with the strong central performance by Daniel Brühl.

The blending of genres makes “Good Bye, Lenin!” a very funny, entertaining, and endearing film. It achieves what few films can by doing this, but it also stands as a great document of East German nostalgia. It depicts the things that were great about the communist ideal, even if they failed, as well as the products that came out of that society that were loved by many, but also quickly forgotten when the capitalist West won the Cold War. This is a film which I can see coming back to again and again and enjoying just as much, if not more, every time.

Adam Kuhn

Adam Kuhn was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, where he attended Saint Charles Preparatory School. He studied History at the University of Cincinnati, where he was a contributor of The News Record, the twice-weekly, independent student news organization. He has been writing film reviews and blogging since 2009.

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