When it comes to high-concept comedies set against the backdrop of real history, it’s hard to come up with a better one than Good Bye Lenin!, the German comedy from 2003 that was directed by Wolfgang Becker.
There’s a family in East Berlin in 1989, in which the mother, named Christiane (Katrin Sass) is a staunch Communist but her children are more skeptical. Shortly before the Berlin Wall falls and the Cold War effectively ends, the mother falls into a coma.
A few months into the new normal, the mother wakes up, and the doctors tell their children that any great shock could end her life. So the kids, along with a nurse-turned-girlfriend, team up to hide the truth of the collapse of the German Democratic Republic from her, a scheme that includes the production of fake newscasts, with some help from friends in West Berlin.
Also necessary to pull off the ruse is the quick ejection of Western clothes and furniture, as well as any other hint that seismic social and political changes had taken place.
Christiane’s son Alex (a very young Daniel Bruhl, who would go on to a series of prominent Hollywood roles that included Captain America: Civil War) is the protagonist, a guy skeptical of his mother’s Communist beliefs but still eager for her to stay alive. Family secrets are exposed, and things end on a tragic but ultimately heartwarming note.
This is such a great idea, and the film executed it super well. It’s funny, it’s moving, and it has fascinating things to say about that particular moment in history and what it meant for individual people.
I’m old enough to have watched the Berlin Wall fall that year. For many people who lived through the events of 1989, it felt like the world was changing, extremely quickly, and for the better. What Good Bye Lenin! supposes is, what if even knowing about that might mean death?
Also, something sort of similar happened in Russia last year:
The film was released in Germany in February of 2003, 20 years ago this month, although it wouldn’t arrive stateside for another year. It won Best Film at the European Film Awards and Best Fiction Film at the German Film Awards that year and was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Golden Globes that year.
Wolfgang Becker, the director, for some reason never had another film released in North America again. But Good Bye, Lenin!, which is available on all major VOD platforms, is worth discovering if you’ve never had the pleasure.
CULTURE (counter, pop, and otherwise) and the people who shape it.