A review of “Goodbye, Lenin!” by Jeanne Aufmuth


Stars: *** 1/2

Rating: Rated R for language and adult situations

Run Time: 1 hour, 58 minutes. In German with English subtitles



Maternal devotion and political upheaval in the face of Germany’s reunification is foil for poignant humor in this sharply observed German export.

          October, 1989, East Berlin.  Christiane (Katrin Sass) is a devoted mom and a rabid socialist, equally passionate about both roles.  Grown children Alex (Daniel Brühl) and Ariane (Maria Simon) have been raised fatherless and with strict ideals of the East.

          Leftist Christiane unexpectedly suffers a heart attack while witnessing a beating during a police riot, slipping into what seems like an irreversible coma.  She sleeps through the climactic fall of the Berlin Wall, the relentless triumph of capitalism, and the abrupt extinction of threatening German borders. Months later Christiane awakens with a weak heart to a completely overhauled country.

          The doctors assure Alex that even the slightest shock could kill his idealistic mother, so he does what he thinks best: creates an East Berlin universe within the walls of their apartment, shielding Christiane from the vagaries of the West.

          Alex’s cocoon-like time capsule resounds with echoes of yesterday; a valentine to life past and a world devoid of external influence and luxurious excess.  In his desire to complement his elaborate illusion, Alex goes so far as to have a friend tape faux newscasts, and stocks the apartment kitchen with East German delicacies, now nearly vanished from grocery store shelves.

          Lenin! speaks to more than sleight-of-hand games and inevitable political change.  Its social satire is tinged with affable humor and subtle sadnesses, even when the deception is too-lengthily drawn out. Alex’s unflinching devotion to his mother and her ideals is a tender essay on commitment, a steadfast emotion based on sanctuary and security.

          Lovely piano music underlies the personal and cultural alterations.  Brühl is alternately naïve and touching as an engaging boy/man who carries the weight of the world on his shoulders, eminently willing to do so in the name of love.