Goodbye Lenin is a political love story set in East Germany (GDR) around the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
A working class single mother, Christiane, and her 20-year old son, Alexander, live in a tiny East Berlin flat in the last days of Stalinism.
Christiane is a socialist, loyal to the Party, but not scared to oppose the Stalinist leadership via letter campaigns and lobbying bureaucrats on issues such as the shoddy goods produced by a bureaucratically mismanaged workers’ state.
After her husband had apparently run away to the West, she goes into deep depression but after recovering she “remarries to the socialist fatherland” as Alexander says in the voiceover.
The movie shows dramatic scenes of the mass rallies against the Stalinist regime in which Alexander is caught up. His mother witnesses her son being savagely beaten by the police during a rally and promptly collapses and goes into a coma.
During her unconsciousness the regime collapses and, thanks to the lack of a democratic socialist alternative, capitalism is re-established in the GDR and the country reunited with West Germany.
The movie subtlety shows how the improvement in consumer goods and political freedom go hand-in-glove with a destruction of state services. Alexande’s sister has to give up her degree course to work for Hungry Jacks.
The nostalga for the benefits of the old regime (but not its dictatorship) explains this movie’s massive popularity in Germany.
When Christiane recovers in hospital, Alexandeer, desperate to avoid a fatal shock to his mother when she discovers the fall of GDR, reconstructs the old society in her bedroom. There are hilarious moments as he lovingly protects his mother from the truth using old GDR goods and unconvincing friends to play charades for her.
The deep love of a son for his mother and the complex political message makes this movie well worth seeing.
Reviewed by Stephen Jolly
Director: Wolfgang Becke
Writer: Bernd Lichtenberg
Winner of Best European Film at the 2003 Berlin Film Festival, Winner of 9 German (Lola) Film Awards including Best Film, Best Direction and Best Actor