So here we are, the end of No-English Moviember. I hope you’ve enjoyed our international journey as much as I have. We’ve had some great films, some of my own choice and some by the choice of brilliant bloggers. I’m almost embarrassed to admit it but, without those suggestions, I think this month may not have been as good as it has been.
The Animation Commendation’s Danish film Jagten and Writer Loves Movies’ Intouchables have really helped me build the standard of this month and introduced me to movies I, in all likelihood, would never heard or seen at all. But that’s what this month has been about, getting deserved exposure to non-English films we may never have seen otherwise. So, again thank you.
But with all that said, we come to the last No-English Moviember film which is a film of my own choice. Now I know what I said earlier may diminish my own choosing of foreign films, but I think if we are to end this month it might as well have a whole feeling of farewell about it, as well as having Goodbye in the title, which helps. So here we go, forever onward to the obligatory overview of the German tragicomedy Good Bye, Lenin!
The story begins in retrospective with Alexander “Alex” Kerner (Daniel Brühl) remembering how the day in 1978 when Sigmund Jähn became the first East German Cosmonaut, an immensely proud day for East Germans, but it is also the day when his father left them to cross the border to the West.
In the twenty one years since then, his mother Christiane (Katrin Saß) becomes a devoted and active member of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany, Alex and his sister Ariane (Mara Simon) grow up and it leads us to 1989 where Alex is involved in an anti-demonstration rally. Though not as fervent as the others, when seen by his mother, she suffers a serious heart attack.
Stuck in a coma, eight months go by before she awakes. However the whole world has changed since then. Although on paper West and East Germany are still separate, the reality is not so. The Wall fell and Capitalism streams into East Germany. The TV repair shop closes down and Alex gets a job at a new firm where he is paired up with West Berliner Denis Domaschke (Florian Lukas) while Ariane leaves University in order to work at a Burger King drive-through.
With so much change in eight month, when Christiane awakes from her coma, the doctors tell Alex and Ariane that any shock could cause another attack. With his mother’s socialist land now but a memory, Alex works to prevent her mother being shocked to death by this new world but recreating the old in her bedroom. Just when reunification looks set on occurring, Alex must maintain the illusion of a separate socialist state for the good of his mother’s health.
Good Bye, Lenin! strikes quite a strange chord as I, along with many others, am part of a generation that has no memory of Germany being anything other than a unified county. To think that Germany had been two separate nations for forty-one years and we, as in people born around 1990, are the first to have no memories of this is a strange thought. Yet this film takes up the task of almost re-educating the world about what East Germany was
Considering this film was made thirteen years after the reunification of Germany, it does incredibly well to create a realistic look at East Berlin, although one must take into account that much of East Berlin has retained much of its East German look as developing East Germany takes a lot of money.
But insomuch as this film is about looking at the socialist past of East Germany, it is more about the characters and how they perceive change and how capitalism affects them. Quite a few characters, mainly those who had good positions in the East Germany, decry the ways things are going, feeling as if the things they worked for had been sold out so cheaply. These views are commented on a few times and, while they aren’t exactly elevated to be the film’s overall message, it is not quashed either.
Indeed, Alex’s attempts to create a false socialist country for his mother shows how he himself is subconsciously dissatisfied with the way East and West are becoming one, with one scene in particular coming to mind where his mother’s Mark der DDR are refused for exchange into Deutsche Mark as he missed the exchange deadline, with Alex becoming enraged at the “Wessies” telling them it is worthless.
Having commented on Alex, I must give credit for Daniel Brühl’s portrayal. His narration of how things progress is a unique one, combining the changes of East Germany, the changes to his life due to westernisation as well as his growing relationship with his mother’s Soviet nurse Lara (Chulpan Khamatova) whom he initially saw at the anti-government demonstration. The way it all melds together is quite enjoyable, getting both the historical and personal all in one go.
Not only that, Brühl takes the leading role in his stride. The way he goes from one liue to the next is so entertaining to watch that, although you know that the charade cannot go on forever, you are willing him to just keep it up for that little bit longer. He also gels so well with the rest of his cast, with his scenes with Florian Lukas holding great comedy with their fake East German news reports. Brühl also manages to hold quite dramatic moments quite well, especially when with his mother and Lara.
The other performance which inevitably takes your full attention is that of Katrin Saß as Christiane. From powerful matriarch to bedridden and manipulated, Saß becomes a completely sympathetic character as, while you may or may not agree with her socialist tendencies (although she is always trying to improve it) you feel for her while she suffers with her half-amnesia, even when she takes in the almost preposterous lies Alex feeds her to keep her from relapsing into having another heart attack. Everything she once believed is gone and replaced by the gaudy world of capitalism. With her great acting you really do get the sense of how despondent you could become if you knew that everything you believed and worked for was gone in an instant.
Good Bye, Lenin! is not so much a teary-eyed look back on East Germany, but rather a look at East Germany in a way which accepts that change needed to come. While acknowledging that we need to not look at East Germany as losers in a West vs East way, but should look at it as something different that, although flawed, makes up a unique aspect of a Germany now reunified.
Thanks for reading! I hope you have enjoyed this series and, if you all liked this, I hope to do this again next year. Once you read it, please share this with the hashtag #NoEnglishMoviember. I know this probably won’t become a thing, but for those of you reading, let’s make this something we can all do and enjoy. I’ve enjoyed this and I hope, with all you guys reading, we can make November a time when we look beyond our language barriers, and see what the rest of the world can do.
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