Good Bye, Lenin! is a 2003 German tragicomedy film, directed by Wolfgang Becker. The cast includes Daniel Brühl, Katrin Saß, Chulpan Khamatova, and Maria Simon. Most scenes were shot at the Karl-Marx-Allee in Berlin and around Plattenbauten near Alexanderplatz.
The film is set in East Berlin, from October 1989 to just after German reunification a year later. Alex lives with his sister, Ariane, his mother, Christiane, and Ariane's infant daughter, Paula. It appears that his father abandoned the family and fled to the West in 1978. In his absence, Christiane has become an ardent supporter of the ruling Socialist Unity Party of Germany (the Party). On the other hand, Alex is disgusted with the drab celebration of East Germany's 40th anniversary and participates in an anti-government demonstration. There he meets a girl, but they are separated by the Volkspolizei before they can properly introduce themselves. When Christiane sees Alex being arrested, she suffers a near-fatal heart attack and falls into a coma. While visiting his mother in the hospital, Alex encounters the girl he met in the demonstration, Lara, a nurse from the Soviet Union who is now caring for his mother. Alex and Lara soon begin dating and develop a close bond.
Shortly afterward, the Berlin Wall falls, Erich Honecker resigns from office, and capitalism comes to East Berlin. Alex loses his job as a TV repairman, but is hired by a West German cable company. Alex is paired with Denis Domaschke, an aspiring West German filmmaker with whom Alex quickly becomes good friends. When Ariane's university closes, she then works at a Burger King drive-through. After eight months, Christiane awakens from her coma, but she is severely weakened and her doctor warns that any shock might cause another, possibly fatal, heart attack. Alex realises that the discovery of recent events would be too much for her to bear, and decides to maintain the illusion that things are as before in the German Democratic Republic. In order to do so, Alex, Ariane and Lara revert their West decor to the decor they previously had in the bedroom of their now bed-ridden mother in the family apartment, dress in their old clothes, and repackage new Western products in old East German jars. Their deception is successful, though increasingly complicated as Christiane occasionally witnesses strange occurrences, such as a gigantic Coca-Cola advertisement banner. With Denis' help, Alex edits old tapes of East German news broadcasts and creates fake reports to explain these odd events.
Christiane eventually gains strength and wanders outside one day while Alex is asleep. She sees all her neighbours' old furniture piled up in the street, advertisements for Western corporations, and a statue of Lenin being flown away by a helicopter. However, Alex and Ariane quickly take her home and show her a fake report that East Germany is now accepting refugees from the West following a severe economic crisis there. Soon after, the family decides to go and inspect their dacha in the countryside at Christiane's suggestion. While they are there along with Lara and Ariane's new Western boyfriend, Rainer, Christiane reveals her own secret; her husband had fled because the Party had been increasingly oppressing him, and the plan had been for the rest of the family to join him. However, Christiane, fearing the government would take Alex and Ariane away from her if things went wrong, chose to stay. As she regrets the decision, Christiane relapses and is taken back to the hospital.
Alex meets his father, Robert, and convinces him to see Christiane one last time, stating he should say he was moved to return East to see his dying wife. Under pressure to reveal the truth about the fall of the East, Alex creates a final fake news segment, convincing a taxi driver (who is the cosmonaut Sigmund Jähn, the first German in space and Alex's childhood hero, who now is trying to live in anonymity) to act in the false news report as the new leader of East Germany and to give a speech about opening the borders to the West. However, it is suggested that Christiane already knows the truth (Lara tried to convince her about the real political developments earlier the same day). Nevertheless, she reacts fondly to her son's effort, without mentioning anything. Christiane dies two days later: she outlives the GDR, passing away three days after full official German reunification. Alex, Ariane, Lara, Denis, and Robert scatter her ashes in the wind using an old toy rocket Alex made with his father during his childhood.
The film score was composed by Yann Tiersen, except the version of "Summer 78" sung by Claire Pichet. Stylistically, the music is very similar to Tiersen's earlier work on the soundtrack to Amélie. One piano composition, "Comptine d'un autre été : L'après-midi", is used in both films.
Several famous GDR songs are featured. Two children, members of the Ernst Thälmann Pioneer Organisation, sing Unsere Heimat (Our Homeland). Friends of Christiane (living in the same building) follow with Bau Auf! Bau Auf! (Build Up! Build Up!), another anthem of the Free German Youth. The final fake newscast with Sigmund Jähn features a rousing rendition of the GDR national anthem, Auferstanden aus Ruinen.
Alexander creates fictional newscasts to reminisce his earlier East German lifestyle as well as a communist environment. He goes out of his way to use East German products to fool his mother such as Spreewald gherkins and although this is all for his mother, you can also tell he is creating a fantasy in which he would like to live in. Alexander lived his whole life with this barrier; therefore the drastic change was hard for him unlike his sister Ariane. Ariane adopts the new Western ideals and lifestyle, but the feeling of longing that Alex experiences is ostalgie. Ostalgie is a neologism for the nostalgia for a communist past that is a common theme in Good Bye, Lenin! 
A noticeable moment when Alex shows signs of ostalgie is when he begins to question the Western changes. For example, he gets angry when his mother’s currency cannot be converted into Deutschemarks because he passed the deadline by two days. He was mad at the new Western rules that were imposed that he still had not yet been accustomed to. Another example can be the videos that Alex creates for his mother. The movies are a sign of where his philosophy stands on the whole situation and how he wishes that socialism peacefully was recognized as a better way of living unlike capitalism taking over abruptly.
The director, Wolfgang Becker, purposely left out politics and large negative details to draw attention to the nostalgic tone. He wanted to focus on the personal aspect of an East German family and how even though they were in a communist environment, they focused more on traditions and family related matters. One theme that did remain, was realization of bluntness in the mother's shock at seeing her son clubbed; police brutality being the reality of the socialist system she apparently endorsed all these years.
Finally in 2004 the New York Times commented on “Ostalgie” which was embodied in a town called Eisenhüttenstadt. It became popular because of Good Bye, Lenin! which imitated Christiane's bedroom. This put a lot of light on the ostalgie situation, as well as the film.
There is a scene where Alex's friend wears a shirt which appears as if it were a Matrix t-shirt. The Matrix was released in 1999, when this film took place in 1990 and therefore causes some confusion. Although it appears as if it were a Matrix t-shirt, it is a shirt that was released in 1990 that looks very alike to a Matrix fan t-shirt and therefore is not it. It has similar colors and coarse font, but it is only a graphic with a similar looking code.
There are a few notable cinematic errors in Good Bye, Lenin! In one scene a man wears a DFB training shirt from 1996, when he is watching the 1990 world cup. There was a Berlin Tram called the GT6N shown in one scene, which was not introduced until 1995, but in the movie it was the summer of 1990.
Unlike what some think, the bronze statue in the film does not have anything to do with the granite sculpture formerly found in Lenin Square. The dismantling of the bronze statue of Lenin did not start until November 8, 1991. In the scene with the Lenin sculpture, Ariane drops shopping bags from a Berlin chain, Reichelt, but they looked like those from 2000. This also happens in the movie with the repackaged pack of "Jacob's Coronation". Alex puts content of Jacobs coffee into GDR packaging, but the Western coffee packaging was launched in the late '90s. A bottle of Blanchet red wine was sown during a scene, but when the wall came down there was only Blanchet white wine. Similarly a lot of the western product such as Coca-Cola was packaged with modern day packaging or advertised with modern day advertising. When Alex goes to the supermarket to buy pickles, the employee is tagging Pepsi cases. The Pepsi logo is the modern day logo, and not the one from the early '90s.
When Alex is talking to one of Christiane's old friends from before her coma, the pot of coffee on the table changes levels between shots. When Ariane is going through her father's letters to her mother, the letter was addressed to Christine and not Christiane.
Christiane Kerner was ventilated by a tracheostomy during her coma, but when she awakes and the machine is removed there is no scar on her neck. When Alex visits his mother in the hospital, modern green exit signs are also present.
The film received strong positive reviews, holding a rating of 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. Empire gave the film four stars out of five with a verdict of, "An ingenious little idea that is funny, moving and—gasp!—even makes you think."
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|Goya Award for Best European Film