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Good bye, Lenin! (2003)

79 qm DDR

Die DDR lebt weiter -- auf 79 qm! (The German Democratic Republic lives on -- in 79 square meters!)

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 116 minutes

UK Certificate: 15


The eight months beginning in October of 1989 were a period of great turbulence and accelerated change in Berlin. Young Easterners formed mass protests, Erich Honecker resigned as head of the Communist government, the Berlin Wall came down, the people stormed the Stasi headquarters to prevent the destruction of their files, thousands with degrees in Marxist Economics found themselves unemployed, the East German mark was phased out, western corporations set up shop, in short, East Berlin became unrecognisable in a short space of time. 'Good Bye, Lenin!' captures the profound effects of this transformation by making these events the background of a story which ingeniously updates Rip van Winkle.

As a boy living in East Berlin in 1979, Alex Kerner (Daniel Brühl) dreamed of representing his beloved GDR in space, just like his hero the cosmonaut Sigmund Jähn. Ten years later, and his disillusionment leads him to join a youth march against the State, where the sight of his brutal arrest causes his idealistic mother Christiane (Kathrin Saß) to have a heart attack and sink into a coma. Eight months later, when Christiane wakes up, her doctor warns Alex that she must be protected from any excitement – and so Alex sets out to conceal the shock of reunification from Christiane, helped by his Russian girlfriend Lara (Chulpan Khamatova), his sister Ariane (Maria Simon), his colleague Denis (Florian Lukas) and various friends and neighbours. A deceit which starts out as a simple Communist-era makeover of their apartment spirals out of control as Christiane regains the ability to walk, and soon Alex's creative lies escalate into no less than a thorough reinterpretation of the entire relationship between East and West, where the world he conjures for his mother starts to resemble neither the old world she left behind nor the new one she has entered, but rather the utopian ideal of which they had always dreamed, combining the best of both worlds.

Alex's voiceover commentary is suffused with the kind of familiar double-speak which becomes second nature to those who have lived under a repressive government, except that not even the new West, with all the unemployment and social iniquity that it brings, is immune from his dry irony. His absurdly elaborate attempts to shelter his mother from reality are very funny, but also touching, reflecting the depth of his affection for her, and making Alex one of the most likeable onscreen clowns of recent times.

Wolfgang Becker's skills in writing are matched by his director's eye for striking settings (like a fully furnished flat with an entire wall missing) and resonant images (like a brass torso of Lenin being lifted over a newly consumerist East Berlin by a helicopter – a bittersweet homage to the similarly bittersweet opening shot of Fellini's 'La Dolce Vita', with its crucified Jesus on a helicopter above hedonist, consumerist Rome). The film combines fairytale elements with actual documentary footage, and the personal with the political, creating a contemporary allegory of the dreams and delusions upon which the lives of East Germans were sustained.

'Good Bye, Lenin!' is an entertaining, intelligent satire on the difficult compromises and adjustments in thought required by reunification, when enemies have become friends and old dreams have passed their used-by date.

It's Got: Old jars of Spreewald pickles, used Trabants, and other items of ‘Ostalgia’..

It Needs: ‘Good Bye, Lenin 2!: Hello Again, Trotsky!’? Or maybe not…

DVD Extras 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen; choice of Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround or Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (both in German); English subtitles; theatrical trailer. There is no commentary. DVD Extras Rating: 3/10


A bittersweet satire of the dreams and delusions upon which the lives of East Germans were sustained.