Following all the commemorations around the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall Goodbye Lenin! was an excellent film to watch. Directed by Wolfgang Becker the film charts the difficulties of assimilating the two cultures which had developed on either side of the wall. Decades of Soviet rule created different brands, fashions and ambitions, let alone the two opposing forms of government. Alex Kerner (Daniel Brühl) has grown up in a staunchly socialist family with a mother who takes part in every aspect of Soviet Berlin after his father defects to the West. However, this devotion to the GDR causes problems when Alex’s mother, Christiane, has a heart attack after watching Alex protest and lies in a coma for eight months as political turmoil overwhelms the lives of all those around her.
This most extreme version of media black out by Christiane causes Alex problems when he is told that she cannot suffer even a light shock without a great risk to her health. He therefore begins an all consuming effort to keep the world as she would remember it visible from the bed she is confined to, even if this means fighting the increasing presence of capitalist influences and the enthusiasm of his fellow East Berliners to leave their past behind. This even involves decanting food so that it appears in a correctly branded container, since the East German brands Christiane requests have already fallen out of favour with supermarkets. However, it soon appears that Alex is not solely preserving the quirks of the GDR for his mother as they become equally important for him. He is dismayed at the lack of loyalty people show as they rush to exchange their money for West German marks and adopt the habits and fashions of their more affluent peers.
Nevertheless, while this might seem like quite a heavy subject matter the film also contains some charming and light moments. Alex meets and falls in love with a girl, Lara, who has been nursing his mother in the hospital and together they experience the new freedoms which reunification brings to Berlin as they explore the houses which have been left empty by those who flee the East. The family dynamic, not only between Alex and Christiane, but also with his sister, Ariane, and her young daughter bring a happy note to the film which would otherwise focus only on family disintegration. Instead, the addition of Lara to their family group along with Ariane’s new boyfriend from West Berlin show how families can grow and blend along with the wider society. Finally, the soundtrack by Yann Tiersen matches the film well and is similar to his exquisite creation for Amélie. It manages to match the range of emotions that the film creates even though these can switch within a scene from comedic to heartbreaking.
When I watched Goodbye, Lenin! I immediately recognised places in Berlin and continued to do so throughout the film despite only going for the first time this year. The film provides an excellent depiction of what Berlin feels like both at this pivotal point in its history and now, 25 years after reunification. Therefore, it’s a good watch for both those who love Berlin and those who know nothing about it!