Good Bye, Lenin! Review
It's true that comedy exists in the most unlikely of places; The breakdown of communism in East Germany and the subsequent collapse of the Berlin Wall would seem as unlikely a place as any, but Wolfgang Becker's film, Good Bye Lenin! is proof that humour can be gleamed even from this most unfunny of subjects. But please be aware, this is comedy of the most bitter-sweet kind.
The central premise is fairly simple. Alex's (Daniel Bruhn) mother, a staunch socialist, has been in a coma for the last eight months and has missed the collapse of Communism. Alex is warned that a large shock could be fatal, so sets about re-creating Communist East Germany in her bedroom. This is not, by any means, a simple task, and all sorts of unforeseen calamities threaten to occur. There is more, much more, but to go into to much detail would ruin the little surprises this film constantly throws up, so it's up to you, dear viewer to go and discover the plot for yourself.
What can be said is that director Wofgang Becker has created something of a minor masterpiece here. Put simply, this is a wonderfully rich film that constantly delights. Rich with symbolism, every frame is lovingly constructed. There is the influence of Kubrick here, and it won't take a Doctorate in Film to spot the loving homage’s Becker creates at certain points. There is also a lovely sense of symmetry to the film, with certain events being echoed and juxtaposed against each other over the passage of time in the film. Make no mistake; this is a work by a person with a deep understanding of the language of cinema.
In many ways, calling this film a comedy is something of a mistake. Although there are moments that are laugh out loud funny, Becker is very much using humour as a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. That end is a nostalgic look at historical events and the wondering out loud 'what if things had been different?' and communism had consumed capitalism. The version of dominant Eastern European Communism that Alex constructs as fantasy for his mother has many things going for it. 'People in the West', it is stated in a false news broadcast he creates, 'have realised that there is more to life than the latest TV's and VCR's' and this is followed by shots of supposed Western refugees of capitalism flooding into the Communist of East Germany. Certainly, this is a rose-tinted view, depending on your political sensibilities of course, but there is no doubt that the film creates a real sense of lost opportunity and humour is the method Becker successfully uses to carry this out.
Performances in the film are wonderful. Katrin Sass is wonderful as Alex's mother and the bond between mother and son is utterly convincing. This is important, as ultimately, this film is about love and the lengths people sometimes go to to protect loved ones, and this central relationship carries the film and supports the many other avenues it explores. Mention must be made of the wonderful score by Yann Tierson; simple, emotional piano sequences underscore key scenes and the cumulative effect is, that by the end of the film, your emotions are neatly manipulated and if you finish the film without shedding at least one tear, then you have a heart of stone.
At least it's anamorphic because this transfer tends to look a little soft. There's no grain, or damage as such, but it's not as sharp as you'd expect a recent release to be. Colour is also good and rich, and used to great effect to highlight the difference between gaudy capitalism and gray communism.
Choice of two mixes and there really isn't much to choose between them. There's not much for the rears to do for most of the film. There are highlights, such as the opening shots of the October celebrations shaking and rattling the apartment, but on the whole, this is a film where the dialogue is king.
Not even subtitles, as you have no option but to endure the forced English subtitles, which is a pity as this often obscures the films original subtitles when they occur. Extremely annoying if you’re trying to enjoy the film in it's native German. And, er, the only other extra is a trailer for something British called The Swimming Pool which has National Lottery money laundering scheme written all over it. It looks dreadful. You also get what looks like the original Cinema trailer for Good Bye Lenin! which is nice, but under whelming as an extra. At least it contains no spoilers and plays up the whimsical aspects of the film, of which there are many. And that's it. Not a sausage more.
For your money, you get a wonderful film but nothing more which gives rise to a small dilemma. It would be criminal not to see the film just because of the lack of extras, but value for money this is not. Of course, you could be one of those superior beings that don't bother with the extras anyway, and if this is the case then you are urged to add this to your collection as soon as possible despite the soft transfer. If extras are important to you, then this is one that can be safely rented until a 'bells and whistles' edition arrives from somewhere. However, it would be difficult to imagine how a load of supplements could add to the enjoyment of this superb film.