Wolfgang Becker’s Good Bye, Lenin! (2003) sees siblings Alex and Ariane going to great lengths to conceal East German society’s many social developments from their mother Christiane, who falls into a deep coma just months before the fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of socialism and eventual triumph of capitalism.
This premise alone reveals two of the film’s greatest strengths: its historically-charged themes and its sociopolitical commentary. Despite its often humorous undertones, the film’s entire world is underscored by the social and historical significance of its covered context. Viewers need not be comprehensively knowledgeable on world history or their own political leanings to be aware of the gravity of each situation. In this sense, the film is also very educational for the most part; as a viewer from the Philippines, I was genuinely unaware of certain events that happened in the film, and I was moved to read up on them later on.
Although the film took place in one singular world, the illusion of an unchanged world in Christiane’s point of view signified a certain multiple diegesis, one of the noted staples of European cinema according to Wollen (1972), although this was one instance where the viewer was wholly aware of these two quasi-separate worlds, and the effect of this multiple diegesis seemed to be minimal as it hinged on the story and not the actual mechanics of the film.
Speaking of the story, one universal theme the film touched on was love for family. For as absurd and contrived as Alex’s efforts were, the viewers at every point saw a certain fire and determination in his eyes, and it was clear that his actions were ultimately motivated by a pure and unadulterated love for the woman who raised him.
All things considered, Good bye Lenin is a remarkable entry-level sort of film for audiences looking to explore European cinema. Since the film was released rather recently, the plot’s progression was linear and easy to follow. As a viewer, I truthfully did not feel like I was watching a foreign flick, save for the European language and the need for subtitles. What I mean is that the experience was rather straightforward, accessible, and entertaining, all qualities I’ve come to not expect from European films. The strangeness, intransitivity, unpleasure, and foregrounding I have come to expect from these films was strangely absent in this film for the most part.
I feel as though this comes as something of a reminder that European cinema is not necessarily countercinema, even though the two do share many significant similarities. That is not to say the watch felt similar to an offering from mainstream or Western cinema. Because even though the most obvious elements separating European films from those in the mainstream market, everything from the film’s plot to its execution to all the minuscule details in between seemed to still contain a very distinctly European flavor, likely due in part to its historical subject matter.
I realize it seems like I am contradicting myself here, but Good Bye, Lenin! effortlessly fuses the historical with the sentimental; Alex’s attempts at reviving the Germany of old, particularly that of the German Democratic Republic afforded the film a cheeky sort of comic relief as he goes to great, often unreasonable lengths to continue his illusion. These included but were not limited to dressing in old, un-Westernized garments, producing fake food supplies by looking for old jars, to filming and directing faux news programs with the help of his friend and co-worker Denis, an aspiring filmmaker. And although the implications behind his attempts were heavy (since he was doing these to preserve his mother’s health), the absurdity of the lengths he went to lent the film a certain absurdity that made it quite an entertaining watch overall.