Good Bye, Lenin! (Special Edition) Review
When theft in the former East-Germany became rampant, even people who had welcomed with open arms the change of regime felt a strange pang of nostalgia, worried about the new world that was unfolding for them. Pornography, McDonalds, upwardly mobile businessmen and graffiti were to become rife but at the same time, their personal freedom, so strenuously curtailed by the Stasi (DDR's dreaded secret police), was finally valued. This dilemma is the knife edge on which Goodbye Lenin builds itself. Daniel (Bruhl) hates the current regime for its Big Brother nature, police brutality and naive communistic idealism. His mother (Sass) has however grabbed onto this simplistic philosophy as an emotional crutch through a nervous breakdown brought upon her by her husband's sudden defection to the West in the mid-70s. In the autumn of 1989, Christiane suffers a cardiac arrest after seeing her son beaten up by the police forces at a - perish the thought! - anti-governmental rally. Left deep in a coma, Christiane fails to see the collapse of the communist state and all the ensuing changes that were to sweep away the old regime within weeks. That is until she suddenly awakes... Daniel is left with a dilemma on his hands - a mild shock could cause her to have another cardiac incident but how can the new capitalist empire outside her window not be a shock to the die-hard communist in her?
Playing that fine line between comedy, nostalgia piece and family drama, Goodbye Lenin is more proof that European cinema can be popular without having to sacrifice its own distinctive voice - the reason of its success is probably the firm localisation in a very particular city and an even more particular point in history but still tells the universal story of a son's undying love for his mother and the ends he'll go to in order to shield her from the outside world. The film does borrow somewhat in tone from Amélie, an effect amplified by the use of Yann Thiersen on the soundtrack: we get the everyday wonder at the simpler things of life, a yearning for a utopic state and a highly romanticised vision of love but this fails to take away from the intrinsic qualities on display here.
Though some may find some of the idealising of the Eastern block somewhat incongruent, there is an even-handedness that permeates the film. It's obvious the Westernisation is not seen all that positively (but can you easily put a good spin on the apparition of the MacWorld?) but the mind-numbing absurdity of the Honecker regime doesn't escape some savage swipes. Like an old clock, the film ticks away with a metronomic precision with each component playing its inherent part but never encroaching on the joyfully somber (or is it darkly joyful?) tone. The acting is pitch perfect - the gawky Daniel never hits a wrong note as the caring but a little over-cautious Daniel and the rest of the cast follow his lead. The production design manages to mix together both computer generated recreations of East-Berlin with careful reassembled props with a realistic feel that saves the film from seeming too high-budget. The feel of living in mainland Europe in that strange era is quite faithfully recreated with all its cringeworthy stupidity.
By the end of the film, you will probably have been won over by the joie-de-vivre that exudes from every frame - albeit one that has been dampened by the all too obvious reality of existence. If you haven't seen this yet, this is your time to catchup with the rest of the class. Sit back and enjoy.
The print used seems to have been very clean and has been transferred quite well with the occasional amount of minor arifacting in certain scenes. The colour palette is quite muted but seems to keep with the director's intentions - the colour scheme does occasionally erupt into gaudy colours to mark the Western elements entering the film. The layer transfer is rather calamitously placed in the middle of a scene with music and is quite jarring. Still a competent but not a perfect transfer.
There's the original German mix in 5.1 available as well as a pointless French 5.1 dub. The film makes a very good use of the surrounds in most of the outside scenes but doesn't overdo it in its more intimate scenes. The soundtrack tends to get given a full surround spectrum and sounds really good for it. Generally, it's a good mix that fits well with the film. The subtitles are also good though slightly Americanised (it's a R1 DVD so that's to be expected) and translates most of the movie including some of the billboards.
The bulk of the extras come in the two commentary tracks - one by Wolfgang Becker and another by the cast. Becker pretty much talks throughout the film with few breaks taking us through the more technical aspects of the film such as the acting, the special effects, the sets and so on. Generally, he is very informative and gives quite a good commentary overall, never failing to be interesting. The cast commentary, assembling Saß, Brühl and Beyer, is quite entertaining though suffers from quite a few long silences. It is still well worth a listen as Saß and Beyer talk extensively about their life in East Germany (one as a relatively privileged actress the other as a kid) and give a much needed historical point of view. There's also plenty of funny anecdotes about the making of the film that crop up throughout making it a good all round commentary.
Lenin learns to fly (21 mins) takes a look at the computer effects peppered throughout the film and specifically one scene in which they simulated the removal of the statue of Lenin. It's quite technical and probably overlong but interesting enough for those who always wonder how they do these things. I personally would rather not know what was simulated and what wasn't as it kills the illusion somewhat but I digress...
The Deleted Scenes are commented on by Becker and Tom Twyker (director of Lola Rennt and uncredited co-editor of this film) - the feature is quite long (40 mins) but is mostly made up of the two of them talking about how each scene fits into the film, why they were removed etc. Sadly they also talk all the way over the scenes meaning you can't actually hear (or read) the dialogue - a strange choice which becomes quite frustrating after a while and inevitably makes the feature slightly disappointing. Aktuelle Kamera is a montage of some of the made up TV that was featured in the film (if you've seen the film, you'll know what I'm referring to - if you haven't, I'd rather not spoil it for you). It's an acceptable extra but feels somewhat like padding. Finally, we get a tiny mini making-of which is less than 2 minutes long and dialogueless. It takes us through some of the filming and behind the scenes in a rapid montage.
One of the best films released in the UK in 2003 - probably only surpassed that year by the excellent City of God - Goodbye Lenin gets a much better release in R1 than the rather dismal R2 release by Fox. The extras are not all brilliant but the commentaries and the deleted scenes make up for the rest of them. Naturally compared to nothing on the R2 and burnt-in English subs, it's a huge step up so flog your worthless R2 and invest in this one. A great film and a good effort to offer non-german speakers a decent set of extras.