01 May 2005

FILM REVIEW: Good Bye Lenin!

The clever, funny film Good Bye Lenin! captures the speedy transition from East to West in 1989. It invokes paternalism, ailment and façade, established metaphors for talking about the GDR system, but uses them in a film which looks on the GDR predominantly with fondness.
Teenage protagonist Alex is child of a mother devoted to the GDR and an absent father in West Germany. His mother’s collapse into a coma coincides with her seeing Alex amid the Wende street demonstrators. Her awakening, itself a fairytale motif, leads Alex to re-create GDR normality for her, believing her too fragile to cope with what has actually happened to the nation in the interim. This is a rich source of humour, which involves staging the GDR experience as dated clothes and shabby 1970s furniture, re-hashed state TV news and gherkins decanted into old ‘Spreewaldgurken’ jars. But Alex’s well-meant project of deception also echoes the spin concocted by the GDR’s political elites, who infantilised citizens.
Subverting discourses of liberation and unification, the film shows an endearing individual struggling through his own personal farce amid immense cosmetic discontinuities. The West is merely a more colourful façade: different furniture and billboards, better cars and TV.
Whereas his sister and his girlfriend adapt quickly to the West, Alex is a more conflicted character, whose farcical dilemma takes over his every waking moment. We see him rescuing bits of the discarded GDR from the rubbish bins of history. He is clearly motivated by the guilt and affection he feels towards his mother. The film satirises official state-speak, but it does not present the GDR as a sinister Stasiland. Instead, like any teenager’s childhood background, it is rendered faintly ludicrous.
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