A Rita without the rifle, Christiane (Katrin Sass) is a true believer in the dictatorship of the proletariat. Throughout the ’70s and ’80s, she works with cheerful zeal to help her East Berlin neighbors realize the benefits of communism. Then she suffers a severe heart attack and falls into a coma, regaining consciousness after eight months. A doctor urges her grown son Alex (Daniel Bruhl) to shield her from any further shocks.
Just one problem: it’s 1989, and the Wall has crumbled; communism is kaput. Christiane will die, literally, if she discovers that her socialist dream has predeceased her. So, Alex, out of love and desperation, tries to keep the old East Germany alive in her apartment. He rigs up their TV to a VCR and pipes in old news broadcasts, hires kids to sing the party songs, does his best to explain away the huge Coca-Cola sign outside her window.
Good Bye, Lenin! may sound like sitcom stuff, a wacky mistaken-identity plot inflated to national dimensions. In fact, as handled with gentle expertise by director and co-writer Wolfgang Becker, the trope works splendidly as both political metaphor and love story. Lenin explores Ostalgie (Eastalgia) the post-Wall tendency of some East Germans to get a little misty over the Honecker regime and taps the universal suspicion that whatever Now is like, Then was better. But it’s also a sweet fable of the tenderness a son may invest in assuming the responsibilities of caregiver for a declining parent. Politically and emotionally, the movie is so mature, it’s liberating.