All 3 entries tagged German
May 18, 2009
October 23, 2008
- Goodbye Lenin!
Goodbye Lenin! is a rare anomaly in film, a German-language comedy that successfully transferred to the mainstream English-language cinema; appropriate, considering the clash of cultures depicted in the film itself. Wolfgang Becker’s sophomore film as writer and director is a masterpiece of cultural commentary, blending nostalgia and satire while viewing one of the 20th century’s defining political moments through a human story that is both heartbreaking and hilarious.
Christiane Kerner (Katrin Sass) is a model Socialist citizen living in East Berlin, who devotes her time to writing letters and galvanising her community in support of the DDR. On the eve of the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, however, she sees her son Alex (Daniel Bruhl) taking part in an anti-communist protest and collapses, falling into a coma and missing the entire reunification process. When she awakes, Alex and sister Ariane (Maria Simon) are warned that any shocks may trigger a heart attack, and Alex therefore commits himself to pretending that the Wall never fell down, which becomes increasingly difficult as Western culture increasingly encroaches on reunified
From this (admittedly rather unlikely) premise, Becker constructs a narrative that, through this family, recreates the thrill and upheaval of post-reunification Germany. With a bittersweet taste we see Ariane starting work at Burger King, Coca-Cola banners being plastered over apartment blocks and a group of wide-eyed East Germans watching American porn as the Western world gradually eradicates the distinctive culture of the East, causing comic trouble for Alex as his recovering mother requests specific favourite brands of pickles. Yet the encroaching homogenisation of the nation is largely welcomed, and a genuine celebratory feel is created as the unified German football team progress through the 1990 world cup, with East and West German citizens celebrating together. The famously poignant scene in which Alex’s mother finally leaves their flat and witnesses the changes in all their glory as a statue of Lenin is flown past best encapsulates the extent of the cultural change sweeping the country (see the clip below).
Rather than ram history down the throats of its audience, however, the strength of Goodbye Lenin! is in the way it creates a tapestry of everyday life, with glimpses of the major events rather than front row seats. Much of the action takes place in the closed-off apartments of ordinary people, focussing on the changes in their day to day lives. The enormity of reunification is taken for granted; it is the people who lived through it that we are asked to empathise with; and its central character is one of the most human protagonists one could hope to meet.
Alex inadvertently echoes the tactics of the DDR itself, attempting to protect his mother by disguising her from uncomfortable truths, and the lengths he goes to (including recording fake TV news reports with his work colleague) form much of the film’s comedy. Yet, through this, Alex starts creating his own fantasy version of history, in which socialism prevails over capitalism and eventually welcomes in and subsumes the West. Bruhl is wonderful in a role that combines ingenuity with pathos; his repeated slipping into fantasy is as much to protect himself as his mother, he hurt by the abandonment of the family by his father years ago. This is Alex’s story throughout, and Bruhl brings great feeling to the joys and pains of first love, of responsibility at a young age, of the overwhelming love for his mother that pushes the rest of his relationships to breaking point. In a final heartbreaking moment, Alex’s long-suffering girlfriend reveals the entire plot to his mother in exasperation; yet she, realising what he has done for her, doesn’t give away that she knows and plays along, realising that the charade is as much for him as for her. This final unspoken act of motherly love, just before her death, provides the closure he needs.
Becker’s script expertly treads a line between condemnation of and nostalgia for socialism, refusing to align the film to either viewpoint and taking a somewhat simplistic view of the politics, but ultimately the political aspect is unimportant next to his humanist concern with the people affected by the transition. Underscored by Yann Tiersen's evocative music, Goodbye Lenin! is a film about love and loss, with the situation of the country a backdrop to the relatively simple story of a young man and his mother. Its historicity is specific, but its resonance is universal.
June 12, 2008
- Gegen die Wand (Head-On)
Provocative, charged and beautiful: Gegen die Wand (Head-On) was the first German film to win the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival for 18 years, and rightly so. After a distinct lack of internationally and critically acclaimed cinema coming from German directors since Fassbinder et al., Fatih Akin breaks free from the mould of miserablist 'migrant' cinema to bring us a story about a female German-Turkish protagonist that refuses to revert to stereotype in portraying the complexities of a diasporic German-Turkish identity. In fact, Sibel's background is just that: at the forefront of the film is a wonderful love story. Sibel and Cahit meet in a rehab clinic and, in a desperate bid to escape her controlling father, Sibel asks Cahit to marry her (Why me? I'm a bum! - You're Turkish!). Their life as roommates is far from wedded bliss; as they take their relationship to the next stage, it becomes violent, jealous and passionate, and an event one night leads to their lives taking an entirely different turn. The chemistry between the two characters is superb, and if there is ever a film that makes you want to lift the images off the screen and admire them as wonderfully composed photographs, this is it.