Monday, April 26, 2004

Good Bye Lenin!

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 April 2004 at Landmark Kendall Square #2 (first-run)

Change happens fast. Fortunately, the average human being can handle rapid change, especially when it offers more choices and opportunities. We resist, but we rise above it.

Good Bye Lenin! confronts its characters with both the biggest changes to happen in recent memory - the collapse of the communist dictatorships - and a character uniquely unable to cope with change. Christiane Kerne (Kathrin Sass) has devoted the last ten years of her life to socialism, ever since her husband escaped to the West without her and their children. When she has a heart attack, she lapses into a coma that lasts eight months - during which time communism falls, her children find new jobs as salespeople for such quintessentially capitalist institutions as Burger King and satellite TV, and the country she's been so devoted to is rushing headlong to erase itself from existence. Fearing that the shock to her system may be fatal, her son Alex (Daniel Brühl) opts to make her room a safe haven - the last place the DDR still exists.

There are many things to like about Good Bye Lenin!, particularly its characters. They're distinct, mean well, and are believable as family. There's a history to Alex's interactions with his mother and his sister Ariane (Marla Simon); shared histories, long-standing arguments, and love inform the scenes they have together. Ms. Sass and writer/director Wolfgang Becker strike a very good balance in creating Christiane; it would be very easy to make her appear a complete fool, but she's not stupid - she recognizes that her country isn't perfect and strives to make it better. The people Alex drags in to maintain the charade are fun, too - everyone in this movie means well, and the side stories like Alex falling in love with a pretty nurse, or the (newly-unified) German soccer team competing in the World Cup driving satellite dish sales. And the story is fun, in a goofily improbable manner. It's the kind of thing that could happen, perhaps, but it's only in the movies that people are resourceful or creative enough to put forth the effort.

The really nifty thing that Good Bye Lenin! does, though, is to capture a moment in history not from the perspective of the people who made it happen, but those who lived through it. They suffer on the one hand and blossom on the other, come face to face with things they thought they would never have to think about, and they go about their own lives both oblivious to and profoundly affected by these major events. Those of us who haven't had our world change practically overnight may have a hard time grasping the enormity of such an event, but this movie does a good job of illustrating it, while being sweet and funny at the same time.

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