If, like me, the phrase “German comedy” gives you a strange feeling of dread, fear not: “Good Bye, Lenin!” manages to (more or less) successfully weave humor and emotion to produce a work of surprising warmth.
Alex (Daniel Brühl) has a problem; his mother (Katrin Sass) has been in a coma for eight months. Worse, while the die-hard socialist matriarch is down for the count, the Berlin Wall comes down and East Germany is no more. After she emerges from her catatonic state, Alex is informed that any sudden shock could be fatal. A shock like, say, the news that the regime you’ve enthusiastically supported your entire life is suddenly no more. He therefore decides to fool his mother into thinking the GDR is still around, and sets out to transform the apartment they share into a shrine, of sorts, to socialism. He also enlists family and friends in the effort, eventually reaching a point where his mother believes Lenin and Communism have won.
Director Wolfgang Becker takes the farce almost to the point of no return, though in the early stages: outfitting the apartment with crappy GDR era furniture, working in the classic sputtery Trabant, and even having Alex re-edit footage of the Wall coming down for his mother to make it look like West Germans were flooding into the East, instead of the other way around. This theater of the absurd makes the inevitable emotional conclusion a little hard to accept.
The poignancy, ultimately, comes from Alex’s growing awareness that not only is he trying to preserve his mother’s health, but also to recreate the strong, self-assured woman she once was. “Good Bye, Lenin!” relies heavily on strong performances from Brühl and Sass to make the illusion believable.