I’ve had a somewhat rough week and thus decided to review a film that I have loved for ages. Goodbye Lenin! Is a German film about the trials a young man goes through to rid his guilt about his mother’s condition and rebuild their relationship. The film is beautifully done and was essentially my first introduction to foreign film, so it has sentimental value to me. I will try not to let this get in the way of my review, but I cannot make any guarantees.
First thing I would like to mention briefly is the use of scene transitions. For the most part the film is pretty straight-forward, but there are a few instances of really intelligent scene transitions that are worth mentioning. My absolute favorite is in the beginning once Alex stops explaining his childhood and the film brings us into present day by having young Alex fire a rocket that the camera follows into the sky, followed by the camera tracking back down to reveal present-day Alex. As a child, his future was so bright and wonderful in his mind, and the camera panning back down literally reflects Alex’s expectations being dragged back down to earth to show what he has become.
Another touching moment using scene transition in the film occurs when Alex has finally ended the charade about East and West Germany and has revealed in his own way that they are united. His mother, enjoying the fireworks from inside, looks peaceful and happy before her face fades to black. The next scene is of her humble funeral, of her ashes being scattered in the sky with a small rocket and some fireworks. This may not seem like much, but showing how peaceful she is during the fireworks helps us to remember during the funeral scene that she may not be physically present, but she will always glow brightly in the memories of those who are present, and that is all she needs.
This film gives a strong sense of nostalgia despite taking place in a country I have never been to in a time period I do not remember. There are plenty of films that accomplish a form of concentrated nostalgia, and this film achieves it through music and lighting. The lighting in this film is often one of two things: tinted to a warm, yellow glow, or of neutral colors but softly lit. There is very little harsh lighting in this film, and that helps to convey the feeling of nostalgia as it has become associative in our film culture to use blurred edges and out-of-focus shots as memory shots. Obviously this film could not be completely out of focus and “dreamy”, but the soft lighting mimics this trope just enough to remind us that it is supposed to be a young man’s memories of his last days with his mother.
As for the music, most of the score is a series of simple piano melodies. One cannot help but feel humble and peaceful when listening to songs like this:
There are also a few songs that emphasize just how crazy Alex’s plan is to prolong his mother’s life, but for the most part the score is kept simple and endearing. Songs such as this subconsciously make us slow down and really take in what is going on in the scene, as opposed to just watching the film in the background and letting the images fly by.
As for the story, the quirkiness of it all is what originally made the movie endearing to me. Recent circumstances though have made the plot-line of doing whatever is necessary to maintain familial relationships really stand out to me. What does trouble me though is whether Alex does everything he does for his mother more out of guilt or out of honest love. He lies to his mother about why she had a heart attack so that she won’t remember being shocked at seeing him protest, but at the same time is that more to protect himself or is it legitimately to protect her? Throughout the film it is clear that he does these things out of love for his mother, but that self-serving undertone never quite leaves.
Although, I must say the character development and the acting in this film was superb. We completely understand who Alex and Ariane are from their first scenes as adults, and despite having a lengthy intro for their mother the film really dives into her character once she wakes up. She has been a strong, independent woman for so long that she can’t stand being a burden on her children and takes every step she can (sometimes literally) to understand what is going on around her and be less of a burden (which only ends up back-firing due to being lied to, but I digress). I also absolutely love Lara and Denis as characters as they are great foils for Alex. Lara is the voice of reason and truth, and Denis is the naïve West-German who doesn’t seem to realize that Alex hasn’t heard of all these great movies he’s seen (and keeps making references Alex is too embarrassed to admit he doesn’t understand). Every character in this film serves a purpose beyond filler, and having so many characters that support each other is a great thing to see in film these days.
Honestly, I can’t deny that this is one of my favorite films. It succeeds every time in reminding me what is most important in life while at the same time warning me of the dangers of trying to protect people from the truth. I understand that I am biased, as this has been one of my favorite films for almost a decade now (since it came out), but I feel it would be a shame to knock this film down out of a mere attempt to pretend my bias does not exist. For anyone who is struggling with family or simply wants a feel-good movie to cuddle up to, I highly recommend this film. As a final note, I do suggest you watch it with subtitles and not a dubbed version. To make this easier, I have found a version on YouTube with English subtitles. I hope you all enjoy the weekend!