Goodbye Lenin

Director: Woolfgang Becker
Country: Germany

This May 13th as the 34 year old Communist regime fell to give way to a new government in West Bengal, the media went on an overdrive celebrating change. While some of it was justified, given the festering stagnation, the oppressive complacency that the Left had become in Bengal, the other side of the coin remained unseen, unheard. What does the fall of the Left mean for those thousands of school teachers, government employees (not just the ones who thrived under Party largesse) in their late 50s, who still steadfastly hold on to their People’s Theatre sensibilities, whose bookshelves are adorned by dog-eared yellowed pages of Marx, Lenin, Premchand, Tolstoy, Gorky, who still shudder at the thought of the government excesses of the 70s, who still dream of an equal society? It is almost like the death of an era, of a dream, of a vision. This year as the world marks the 50th anniversary of the building of the Berlin wall (just as the previous year marked 20 years of its fall), Cinemoi recommends Goodbye Lenin by Wolfgang Becker, not just for its topicality and certainly not for its political content. Watch this tragicomic mood piece to step beyond the complex dialectics of ideas, concepts, of politics and listen in to those silent deaths, emotional deaths, sentimental deaths of times gingerly preserved, of ideas nurtured over time, of ideals fiercely protected and of relentless but doomed resistance to change.

Christiane, a supporter of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany suffers a near fatal heart attack and slips into coma, seeing her son, Alex arrested for being part of an anti Government protestation. Alex notes, “Mother slept through the relentless triumph of Capitalism.” GDR (German Democratic Republic) falls, Coca Cola billboards triumphantly carve out their space in the skyline, Christiane’s daughter takes up a job with Burger King. But one fine day Christiane stirs. The Doctor announces that any further shock would prove fatal for her. So Alex embarks on a mission to preserve the old order in the few square feet of his apartment. His mother must not know the world as it is. Fake newscasts using old video footage, new brands of pickle served in old bottles… the contraptions only become more complex with time. One day as Christiane goes out on a walk while Alex is asleep; she is shocked to see the furniture of her neighbours piled on the sidewalk, adverts of Western Corporations. Before more damage can be done, Alex escorts his mother home and a news bulletin is contrived detailing how the East is sheltering people from the West as their economy is in the doldrums! But for how long can the burden of truth be held at bay?

Becker conceives scenes that heave with humour, with tragedy, with anticipation and suspense, creates characters that are quirky, endearing and quite deftly walks the tightrope of documenting facts and interpersonal dynamics. The haunting score by Yann Tiersen, adds to the lingering ache that Goodbye Lenin is. A must watch indeed!

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