Sunday, January 23, 2005

Good bye Lenin!

Good Bye Lenin!
Directed by: Wolfgang Becker
2003, Rated R
In German, English subtitles
4 stars

Here in America we movie goers are accustomed to the glitz, glitter, and grandeur of Hollywood’s sleek, shiny films. Once in a while it is good to step outside of the safety zone of major American film making, and take a look at what the rest of the world is doing. While for some this may mean watching the 30 second clips that the Academy Awards show for best foreign film, I recommend a better alternative. Good Bye Lenin! a German film, directed by Wolfgang Becker offers a refreshing break from the plastic glamour of the typical Hollywood film.

Enter the world of communist East Germany. Alex Kerner (Daniel Brühl) is faced with a difficult situation. His mother (Kathrin Sass), a devoted socialist and dedicated member of the communist party, collapsed into a coma right before the fall of the Berlin Wall. When she awakens eight months later, Alex is told that any shock to her system could prove fatal; Alex realizes that his mother wouldn’t be able to handle the news of the collapse of her beloved system. In order to protect his mother, Alex creates a fantasy world around her to keep her believing that nothing has changed.

Perhaps the best aspect of this film is its subtlety. Instead of directly explaining every small detail, the audience is instead often left to infer meaning from the actions of the characters. Delayed camera shots and facial expressions are allowed to fill the natural gaps in dialogue, and can actually imply meaning in a more satisfactory way than an unnatural, blunt explanation would. As a result, the dialogue and interactions are more natural and fluid—not forced. The restrained, soft music aids this tone, and also helps keep the film flowing. Along with the natural subtlety also comes a natural comedy. The comic lines are stated with deadpan brilliance, making them all the more amusing for their restraint. This, of course, can only be accomplished by excellent acting. Brühl and Sass fit perfectly into their respective characters, and are aided by the other talented actors around them. Chulpan Khamatova as Alex’s wonderfully charming, activist girlfriend, and Maria Simon as his sulky older sister Ariane complete the film.

Cinematographically, this film is no masterpiece. It has moments of brilliance, but is inconsistent in maintaining its artistic appeal. The opening scene is spectacular, with old photos of the East German republic overlaying onto each other, piling up just like the lies of that system did. Color is also used extremely well, in this opening sequence, and throughout the film; red is used noticeably as the color of passion, and also as the representative color of the communist party. While the cinematography may not be incredible, however, what Wolfgang Becker manages to do best is demonstrate the good and evil of both societies, east and west. While we laugh at the ridiculous lies told by the communist party, we also understand the attachment to the system felt by Alex and his mother. Their devotion to the system is comprehensible, if slightly fanatical. Becker does an excellent job of showing the emotions connected with the downfall of a system, and the complete change of a society. While Alex is overjoyed at certain of his new freedoms in a united Germany, there is also a strong sense of nostalgia for the old system, and his previous way of life. The devotion he shows to his mother mirrors her devotion to the system, and similarly, the lies he surrounds her with are the same as those of the system.

Overall, this film provides an excellent insight into the complicated politics and emotions of that country at that time, as well as offering a wonderful reprieve from the glitzy plastic of Hollywood filmmaking. So, auf wiedersehen.

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