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Goodbye, Lenin!

East Meets West

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For Christiane Kerner, an East Berliner who teaches school, and who lives and breathes glorious gray Socialist air, the personal is very political: When her non-Party husband leaves her in 1978 for an "enemy of the state" (i.e., another anti-Socialist), she throws herself into her sanguine, Soviet-styled, sloganeering Socialism with the vengeance of a woman who isn't getting any sex. This means even more rigorous lessons for her two young children, Alex and Ariane, who dearly love their mother, but who would rather have their daddy back, too.

 

Then, on a trip home from the market one evening in 1989, comes a new shock to her long-ago readjusted system: As a group of protesters march by, Christiane sees Alex, now grown into a responsible young man, walking with the pacifist freedom fighters. She collapses into a coma and wakes up eight months later -- after the fall of the Berlin wall, and in such frail condition that Alex and Ariane must re-create Christiane's crumbling old beloved Communist world to make her believe that nothing has changed.

 

This is the premise of Wolfgang Becker's thoroughly charming Goodbye, Lenin!, a movie that stretches plausibility about as much as the events of those two years that shook the world around the turn of the 1990s. Becker's wit is wry -- he pokes as much fun at Soviet oppression as he does at Western excess -- and his sensations are wonderfully bittersweet: He certainly doesn't lament the fall of his nation's old regime, but he does remind us of how difficult it was for people, especially the elderly, to shift their paradigm so suddenly, especially when they'd spent 40 years believing in the old one (or else).

 

It's great fun to watch Alex pour new products into packaging that once housed inferior East German goods, or to explain to his mother why two workmen have unfurled a Coca-Cola sign on the building across from their apartment. For that job, he enlists the help of his pal Denis, a Kubrick-obsessed budding filmmaker who creates fake newscasts and newsreels pieced together from recent historic footage. (Coke, Christiane is delighted to learn, was actually invented by Communists and then stolen by capitalists.)

 

Becker is a smart fellow who knows to keep his story firmly grounded in character and emotion. His humor is always gentle, and his metaphors completely natural: When Christiane's baby granddaughter literally takes her first steps, the bedridden Christiane takes hers, both literally and figuratively, into a sunny outside world riddled with new cars, carpeted lamps, Ikea fliers, and a statue of Lenin being taken away by helicopter -- a modern-day Berlin airlift for a strange new world. In German, with subtitles. 3 cameras 

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