Ok, as promised…
What first gets you about Good Bye Lenin! is how finely balanced it is. Obviously it’s a film about nostalgia, and the tensions between East and West Berlin (read ‘Europe’). And yet it never settles on one side or another. Is the West better than the East? Are Coke, cigarette and lingerie adverts preferable to statues of Lenin? And it’s much more complex than that, but I don’t want to reveal any unnecessary plot details, but trust me, it’s beautifully poised. (But if you do want a summary of sorts, go here.
What I like most about it, as I mulled it over with m’Lady late into last night, was the universality of it. Yes, it’s a film about a very specific time and place (Berlin, 1989-90), but somehow its story doesn’t become tied to this. It’s not – to take another recent Central European film – like The Pianist, which is a very Polish tale. Besides the fact that it is set in 1930s-40s Warsaw, the jokes (the first thing to happen to our Polish hero wandering around ‘liberated’ Warsaw is to be shot at by a Russian) are dark Polish humour, and the story is a microcosm of recent Polish history and mythology (you have Chopin, Russia, Germany, the destruction of a country, the Warsaw Uprising, etc. etc). It is a Polish myth in construction.
Good Bye Lenin! is very different. It shows these myths in construction – the Ostalgie for the old Berlin, the events of 1989-90 (events like the Berlin Wall coming down and the World Cup, which are carefully illustrated with archive footage, and thus tug at all our heartstrings) – but shows us to trust and mistrust them in equal measure. Everybody has them – even the West German film guy, with his 2001 hommages – and we all have to sustain them to make sense of anything. And by doing this, it transcends being a documentary film about a place and its people (which to an extent The Pianist is), and allows those people to move on, to live and breathe. As someone with a vested interest in rethinking East and West Europe (more of which another day) this was a relief. Go and see.