If not as dense as Godard’s Masculin Féminin, Wolfgang Becker’s Good Bye, Lenin! is an equally playful look at the effects of American globalization abroad. Christiane Kerner (Katrin Saß) is a Communist party supporter who falls into a coma after a heart attack and sleeps through the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent invasion of America’s fast food joints. Looking to spare his mother further injury, Alex (Daniel Brühl) concocts an elaborate plan to convince the bedridden woman that Communism is still very much alive: He videotapes fake news programs to explain the “Trink Coca-Cola” banner outside her window and makes her believe that her favorite brands of food haven’t been replaced by cheap—but apparently similar tasting—knock-offs from Holland. Becker’s Berlin is a grungy Art Deco haven that changes overnight with the dismantling of the Wall, and he uses a magical realist swirl of images and flash-forwards (a postmodern trick that isn’t very functional but appropriately out-of-place) to humorously pit the past against the present. How do we guard someone against the threat of globalization? Both Becker and Alex seem to understand the uplift perpetuated by the end of Communism (Germany won the World Cup soon after), but in forcing his main character to ask big questions he awakens Alex to the reality of capitalism’s tactless, personality-free invasion. In the end, Alex’s game becomes a kind of fantasy wish fulfillment, a regressive act of familial restoration. It’s easy to forgive Becker’s too-literal evocation of globalization (Alex is a dreamer cosmonaut and the World Cup is a planetary battle) because the symbolism is hopeful and never overwrought. In the end, Good Bye, Lenin! works so well because Becker playfully likens Germany’s East-West split and political upheavals to the sort of traumas that tear families apart. If the film’s characters are “the children of Lenin and Coca-Cola,” by film’s end Becker has lovingly evoked a happy in between.
- Wolfgang Becker
- Wolfgang Becker, Bernd Lichtenberg
- Daniel Brühl, Katrin Saß, Maria Simon, Chulpan Khamatova, Florian Lukas, Alexander Beyer, Burghart Klaußner, Michael Gwisdek, Jürgen Holtz
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