As the first “modern” film after a series of classics, Good Bye, Lenin!’s promise of a straightforward narrative and lack of rule-breaking cinematic trickery seemed like a sharp turn away from the image of European Cinema I, and the class, had been painting in our heads based on the edgy, rule-breaking, distinctly European films that came before. However, Good Bye, Lenin! is anchored by a nostalgic sentiment that makes the film a handy transition between the wildly inventive past and unusually stable present of European filmmaking.
Good Bye, Lenin! makes this nostalgic ideal the driving force of the story, which follows the siblings Alex & Ariane as they attempt to keep up the façade of East Germany’s Socialist rule in the bubble that their formerly-comatose mother, Christiane, now exists in due to her poor health, and keep the progressive, Capitalist-leaning image of the now-unifying Germany out. While the film eventually leads the failure of their attempts (something unbeknownst to the siblings), it highlights the fact that history is something that cannot be delineated and sectioned into eras marked by changes, at least to those experiencing it. Christiane’s acceptance of sociopolitical change, albeit short-lived, sews the divides between political situation and generational ideals together, things that were previously points of contention earlier in the film.
While the film takes a linear form of storytelling, with its quirks remaining within the realm of the film’s humour instead of technical form, what possibly makes the film fresh in the canon of modern European cinema is exactly its seeming divorce from the supposedly artsy craft of Europen filmmaking. By utilizing the form of a traditional mainstream narrative (as is often seen in American cinema) and placing it within the context of European history, with a specifically German humour and social awareness, Good Bye, Lenin! has subverted the shape of European cinema as prescribed by the 20th century. The film is wholesome and tackles homely conflicts, but is painfully aware of this, and smarter in execution because of this awareness.
Like Christiane’s acceptance of social change at the end of it, Good Bye, Lenin! works as a signing off on the use of mainstream modes of storytelling in European cinema, at least within the purposes of this class. Had this film actually been more open-ended, internally self-aware, or fourth wall-breaking in execution, the end result would maybe have been a lesser film. What makes Good Bye, Lenin! a practical and straightforward film is its focus on something that previous films lack, something that threatens the intelligent, radical image of European cinema – Unabashed and unashamed empathy. This is a story about a family driven by love more than anything else, after all, and by embracing this raw sense of emotion and saying good bye to cinematic acts of toying with it, Good Bye, Lenin! proves to be a step forward in the canon of European cinema.