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Good Bye Lenin!

After his mother wakes up from a coma following a near-fatal heart attack during the waning days of a divided Germany, her son does everything he can to create the illusion that the Berlin Wall never fell.


Alex (Daniel Brühl) is a television repairman living with his mother and sister in their small East German apartment. One night, on her way to a function organized by her beloved Communist Party, she sees Alex being carted away after a protest march is broken up. The shock of this sight is so great she has a heart attack and collapses in the street. For eight months she lies in a coma, while young Alex falls for Lara (Chulpan Khamatova), the student nurse who cares for her. When his mother suddenly awakens, the doctors warn she is still weak and any sudden shock could kill her. Alex takes his mother home and creates a tiny version of East Germany inside their apartment, where nothing has changed and the Berlin Wall remains intact. He even goes so far as to create fake news programs with his co-worker Denis (Florian Lukas) as the anchorman. Alex manages to explain the recent influx of Western advertising outside her bedroom window with these carefully fabricated news shows depicting a Germany quite different from the one actually in existence.


The film has had consistently good buzz since it took best film, actor, director and supporting actor honors at the German Film Awards and screened at this year's Sundance Film Festival. Daniel Brühl, a celebrated young German actor, acquits himself well without being quite as remarkable as all the press surrounding this film would have you believe. Alex's fierce determination to protect his mother is endearing in its forthright forward momentum, despite the fact that he's standing still in the midst of incredible and rapid change. In trying to re-create the appearance of East Germany, Alex unintentionally makes it a place that never fully moved into the future, breaking down rather than changing. His version of East Germany is one in which the socialist powers allow West Germans fleeing the difficulties of capitalism to take refuge within their borders and casts the East German government as openhearted and good, a lie that comforts not only his mother, but Alex himself. Through his fiction East Germany becomes, postmortem, the country he always wished it could be. Alex's sister Ariane (Maria Simon), on the other hand, wholeheartedly embraces the new capitalist system and chafes in the artificially pre-unification apartment with her West German boyfriend and co-worker at Burger King, Ranier (Alexander Bayer). Florian Lukas plays the aspiring filmmaker Denis with a bravado that makes his a standout character. Katrin Sass as Alex's mother is at first sweetly innocent and later more able to adjust to the changes around her than anyone gave her credit for.


Though certainly much is lost on American audiences or even younger Germans, the problems that arise when one system gives way to another are painfully clear. Alex and his mother (without realizing it) are trying to cling to their national identity. ''Sure, the old way was lousy, but at least we were East Germans--now what are we?'' director Wolfgang Becker asks. It is interesting to note that Becker is not, in fact, an East German, having grown up on the other side of the Wall. He is, however, a member of X Filme (a filmmaking group that also includes Run Lola Run director Tom Tykwer), a highly regarded German production company. Here he manages to create a believable, if unusual, world in which these characters live. The film never gets bogged down in the politics of the situation, dwelling instead on the personal ramifications of national upheaval. As much as he is protecting his mother from the shock of reunification, he is also guarding himself from this dramatic change.

Bottom Line

Good bye, Lenin! is a sweet, enjoyable comedy with dramatic elements.