Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Goodbye To Lenin And All That Jazz

To grow up under socialism was to lead a mostly drab life limited in choice and variety. Social concerns were the same - adultery, single motherhood et al. Children were inspired by successes of the space race. Then everything changed with the onset of globalization and the end of socialism. Choices ran wild. People changed. Society changed.

I, myself, grew up in an India that changed subtly but perceptibly from a socialist-centric country to one at the forefront of global capitalism. That, though, shall be the subject of a separate post. As a movie buff, among other things, one way I discover myself and the world is through film. Films depict society variously - as it is, as it was, and often as it might have been.

The ethos of being East German and then German is brought home humorously and powerfully in "Goodbye, Lenin", a German production that won the 2004 C├ęsar for best EU film. The humor is social such as taking delight in a large abandoned apartment in East Berlin stocked with socialist knick-knacks now out of stock in the new "consumer paradises". Other vignettes include coming to terms with plastic diapers and working at Burger King becoming the new job of choice.

In brief, the committed socialist mother of the protagonist enters a catatonic coma when she witnesses her son particiipating in a protest march. She sleeps through much of the changes sweeping her country and the fall of the Wall, awaking one day with partial amnesia. The doctor warns that a fatal shock, such as discovering the significant changes in Germany might kill her. The caring son decides to stage a birthday party recreating the socialist pleasures still vivid in her memory - inviting the Youth Pioneers, old comrades and stacking the house with copies of Current Economic News, besides ensuring the television plays only "Aktuelle Kamera" broadcasts. These events play out against the backdrop of other uniting, memorable occasions such as Germany's victory in the 1990 World Cup (soccer, if you didn't already figure). The son continues to draw a curtain over history for his mother, despite various faux-pas. He retells the reunification of the two Germanies as if West Germany chose to rejoin the East because of the successes of communism, thus never breaking his mother's heart. Other twists follow, but the strength of the film lies more in its depiction of a society in flux and the effect on individuals hitherto unexposed to such change.

The director cuts between actual historical footage and scenes from his imagination to recreate a world now gone by. The eponymous scene from the film, in a manner of speaking, is compelling and powerful. It is almost as if Lenin himself were bidding adieu to his dream. The Dolby Digital audio on the DVD is crystal clear. The DVD has some interesting extras such as an in-depth look at the creation of visual effects used in the film and two German/English commentaries - one by David Becker, the director, and the other with the stars, Daniel Bruhl, Katrin Sass and Alexander Beyer. The music is by Yann Tiersen, who also composed the music for Amelie.

Rating: 5/5

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Time traveler, world traveler, book reader