Wolfgang Becker co-founded the production company X Filme in 1994. The stable is most famous for making films such as Lola Rennt (Run Lola Run, 1998), The Princess and the Warrior (2001), and Heidi M (2001). Becker started working in the film industry as a freelance cinematographer and won numerous awards for his features Kinderspiele (Child’s Play, 1992) and Das Leben ist eine Baustelle (Life Is All You Get, 1996) which was in Competition at the Berlinale in 1997.
What X Filme seem to be particularly good at is producing punchy stories that are embellished with humour, packaged in a style that is also palatable to the non-German market. Their films are glossy, slick versions of the prevailing trends in German cinema over the last five to ten years, light years away from from the heavy, plodding philosophising of Fassbinder and Herzog, which still seem to dominate the minds of most German distributors.
Good Bye Lenin! starts with the East German riots of 1989. Alex’s (Daniel Brühl) mother (Katrin Saß), a committed communist, is knocked down in the chaos and ends up in hospital in a coma. When she finally wakes up, East and West Germany have become one. Alex tries to shield her from the changes that Westernisation is bringing. He has been told that she should be spared any shocks if she is to get well again. Alex’s efforts entail ever more complicated sub-plots; from decanting produce into old East German jars, to recreating East German news, by making it up and casting a friend as a typical Eastern-style newsreader.
The resulting film is a panic-stricken race against time and outside forces. The difference between Eastern and Western culture is highlighted by consumables, décor, and ideals. There are a few moments of pathos, most strikingly when Alex finds his father and goes to meet him at his plush house in the West. The main focus however is an unrelenting satire of the East.
Wolfang Becker’s film has been competently, although not particularly imaginatively shot. Daniel Brühl, a rising star in German cinema, (he played the lead in Das Weisse Rauschen [White Noise], 2001) oozes charm and great comic timing. He is skilfully supported by the far more experienced Katrina Saß as his mother and Florian Lukas playing his best friend Denis. For many outside of Germany watching this film, it will be the first time that they will see what it really meant for East Germans when the wall came down. An entire nation was propelled forth at top speed into a culture of consume, consume, consume. Good Bye Lenin! uses this to maximum effect. It’s a bit philosophical, a bit political, a bit funny, and a bit sentimental – in other words easily consumable and good for a laugh.