Thursday, 18 September 2014

Good Bye Lenin!

It must be great to love and care for your mother as much as Alex Kerner does in her remaining months following a heart attack. The main part of this wonderfully heartfelt film is set in East Berlin and covers the period before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the German reunification a year later. As well as his mother Christine (Katrin SaB) the twenty two year old Alex also shares their flat with his sister Ariane (Maria Simon) her baby daughter and the baby’s father Rainer. Alex’s father fled to the capitalist side of the wall in 1978, abandoning his wife and children. Following this traumatic family upheaval Christine, working for the betterment of the GDR, joined the Socialist Unity Party of Germany and dedicated her spare time to improve the lives of her fellow socialists.   But things were beginning to gradually change and when she sees her son take part in an anti-government street demonstration, were he gets arrested, she has a near fatal heart attack and collapses in the road. After being in a coma for eight months she is finally allowed home. Unbeknown to her the borders between East and West Germany have crumpled and with the doctor warning Alex that any sudden shock could kill his mother he decides to deceive her into believing that nothing of importance has happened in the last eight months!  With the help of his family and friends they manage to recreate the old East Germany in her bedroom.  As many of Christine’s old friends still retain a nostalgia for a time and a country they preferred it was not difficult to persuade them to help, Pioneer Scouts sing socialist songs to her on her birthday, attempts are made to procure foodstuffs that existed under the old regime including mothers favourite ‘Spreewald gherkins’ and Alex’s friend and workmate Denis (Florian Lukas) cobbles together mothers favourite news programme Aktuelle Kamera, some authentic and some forged, with the help of a video player for her to watch on the TV.  As Alex explains to the viewer ‘The GDR that I have created for my mother increasingly became the one I myself had always wished for”
Does Christine say Good Buy Lenin?
Co-written and directed by Wolfgang Becker the award winning Good Buy Lenin! (2003) stars Daniel Bruhl who we have seen recently portraying WikiLeaks former spokesperson Daniel Domscheit-Berg in 2013’s The Fifth Estate and the same year he played Niki Lauda in Rush. But it was his role of Alex that not only garnered him the European Film Award and the German Film Award for Best Actor but gained him a lot of international recognition.

The Pioneer Scouts help Christine celebrate her birthday.
The film itself captures the popular imagination about East Germany and fanned a wave of nostalgia for the former German Democratic Republic with books and memento’s being freely available as well as a collection of DEFA’s[1] films archived in a library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. This is the only study centre outside of Europe devoted to the study of a broad spectrum of filmmaking by East German filmmakers or related to East Germany from 1946 to the present.

The Socialist dream.

Unlike other films that portray the socialist living experience Becker’s film does give a more humorous look at the state run GDR and has become the most successful Ostalgie[2] comedy to date.  As Daniela Berghahn explained ‘Good Buy Lenin! marks a breakthrough in the establishment of a unified German film culture. It is one of a small number of films originating in the West that look eastwards and that speak to audiences in both the new and old federal states[3]. It was shown in more than sixty other countries and has become one of the most successful of Germanys international cinematic exports.
Nostalgia for the past.

[1] East Germany’s state owned film Production Company.
[2] Ostalgie is a German term referring to nostalgia for aspects of life in East Germany. It is derived from the German words Ost (east) and Nostalgie(nostalgia).

[3] Hollywood behind the Wall. The cinema of East Germany by  Daniela Berghahn.

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