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GOODBYE LENIN (article first published : 2005-03-26)

The recipient of a number of prizes, including the London Critics' Circle award for best foreign film, a category in which it was also nominated at last year's Golden Globes ceremony, Goodbye Lenin is a quirky and captivating German production, deftly scripted and directed by Wolfgang Becker.

It's a moving and well-acted tale of love, twisted realities and sacrifice, often incidentally amusing, and centres on a devoted son prepared to manipulate truth. He does so in a bid to satisfy his mother, whose husband deserted her and his children to defect to the West for his "enemy of the state" girlfriend.

Daniel Br¸hl is the devoted East German son, Alex, whom we first meet in 1989, when many Germans are heading west through Hungary and when his mother, Christiane (Katrin Sass), is a very active member of the East German Socialist Party.

Then Christiane lapses into a coma following a heart attack just days after East Germany celebrates its 40th anniversary. And when Alex is told by doctors, after his mother later wakes up, that any shock could kill her, he faces a dilemma.

The reason is that during the eight months his mother was in a coma, there have been major changes - including Christiane's daughter, Ariane (Maria Simon), having hooked a new boyfriend, Rainer (Alexander Beyer), and Alex having fallen for one of Christiane's nurses, Lara (Chulpan Khamatova).

The biggest change, however, is that history has unfolded - the Berlin Wall has been pulled down and the initial period of unease between people from East and West has started to settle down. The thought of her socialist ideals having been shattered would kill his mother, Alex fears, so he sets about creating a false reality for Christiane.

He opts to shield her from the Western influences that are flooding the city and even goes so far as to repackage old grocery products and, with a budding film-maker pal, Denis (Florian Lukas), produce fake television news programming to keep up the pretence that socialism reigns supreme.

But preserving the illusion that East Germany has not been reunified with the West becomes increasingly difficult as Alex's lies become more complex and complicated, and it seems inevitable that Christiane, whose condition improves by the day, will one day leave her bedroom and stumble upon the truth.

In German with subtitles, the film offers not only a good story, well told, with small subplots also centring on deception, but, especially for non-Germans, offers a fascinating look at the complexities of a Germany and its peoples in a time of important transition. Rating: 8/10. - Billy Suter




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