- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 18, 2004

Alexander Kerner would do anything for his mother, even single-handedly rip Germany in two once more. “Good Bye, Lenin!” takes

a page out of the “50 First Dates” playbook — the lead character concocts an alternate reality to help a sick loved one — and fashions a unique spin on one of the 20th century’s biggest political shifts.

The German import balances humor, drama and social commentary with a deftness that defies easy description. What might have been a mishmash of politics and contrived humor becomes in the hands of director Wolfgang Becker a slickly orchestrated period piece.

Set in East Berlin just before communism collapsed, “Lenin” follows the Kerner family, still reeling following the departure of papa Kerner for West Berlin and another woman.

Christiane (Katrin Sass), the strong matriarch, becomes her children’s sole means of support and, for years, the family gets by just fine. After all, they live in the kind of socialist state that takes care of its most vulnerable citizens, right?

Flash forward to October 1989. Christiane collapses when she spots son Alex (Daniel Bruhl) participating in a pro-democracy rally. She slips into a coma, and there she stays for eight months. Meanwhile, capitalism is triumphing throughout East Germany.

By the time Christiane wakes up, her beloved socialist state is no more. But her doctors tell son Alex and his sister Ariane (Maria Simon) that their mother should be shielded from any news which could rattle her fragile state. And what could be more upsetting than the death of Lenin’s dream?

Alex sequesters his mother in her bedroom and creates a throwback existence to aid her recovery. He digs up old foodstuffs distributed under the former political system for her and invites schoolchildren to visit and sing pro-socialist anthems of yore.

But capitalism won’t keep itself hidden, despite Alex’s best efforts.

Mr. Becker, a recovering socialist, gives “Lenin” the kind of balance that eludes an ideologue like Tim Robbins.

The film captures the dark side of East Germany’s socialist state, particularly through a late revelation which sheds a harsh light on Christiane. It also mocks the suffocating nature of capitalism, particularly during the film’s best sight gag, a massive Coca-Cola banner unfurling right outside the mother’s bedroom window.

“Lenin” rarely goes for the easy laugh, though at times it can’t help itself. The premise, while unrealistic at face value, teems with comic possibilities.

Mr. Becker (1997’s “Life is All You Get”) squanders a bit of accumulated good will with a flabby final reel. The familial reunification is handled with far less subtlety than the way Alex fashions newsreels espousing the antiquated party line.

The film attaches itself to a period in history rife with drama and big moments, but it’s the quiet touches that win us over.

“Good Bye, Lenin!” is an ambivalent love letter to a system which never really lived up to its creators’ intentions.

***

WHAT: “Good Bye, Lenin!”

RATING: R (Full frontal nudity, coarse language)

CREDITS: Directed by Wolfgang Becker. Written by Mr. Becker and Bernd Lichtenberg. Produced by Stefan Arndt. Music composed by Yann Tiersen. German with English subtitles.

RUNNING TIME: 118 minutes

WEB SITE: https://www.sonyclassics.com/goodbye/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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