TWIG - After a whirlwind tour of European box offices that made it the most successful European film of 2003, "Good-bye, Lenin!" hit American theatres in limited release Friday, February 27.
The film - which has won awards from the "Lola" to the European Film Prize for best picture - has been praised for its sympathetic portrayal of East Germans dealing with the massive changes to their country with the fall of the Iron Curtain. In Germany, it even inspired a movement called "Ostalgie," or nostalgia for East Germany. Director and screenwriter Wolfgang Beckerís story is now poised to win over hearts in the United States - just as it did in Europe.
The setting is East Berlin, 1989, just before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Alex, the son of a passionately socialist mother, is arrested for protesting against the East German regime. Upon seeing her son speaking out against the system she believes in and works for, the mother suffers a heart attack and falls into a coma. Just a few months later, the world has changed indubitably, ushering in Western commercialism and rapidly replacing the East German culture.
This is the East Germany that Alexís mother wakes up to, the world that he will do anything to conceal - to avoid a relapse that threatens his motherís life. What follows are the lengths that Alex will go to make sure his mother never leaves the apartment and keep her from discovering the secret: there is no German Democratic Republic.
Germany.info met director Wolfgang Becker and actor Daniel BrŁhl, who plays Alex in the film, for an exclusive interview on their recent visit to Washington. Here is what they have to say about the movie and its resounding international success:
What makes "Good-bye, Lenin!" interesting to an American audience?
Wolfgang Becker:Well, I donít think there one thing that makes it interesting specifically for an American audience. I think it is interesting for audiences in general - it doesnít matter if you come from Brazil, Japan or the United States because it is a very human story - a story which can be easily understood by everybody.
It is a very moving and a funny story. It has two distinct aspects: there is a very comical side and there is a very serious side as well. There are mothers and sons around the whole world; so, it is an interesting film for many people.
What made you want to do a movie that dealt with German unification?
Becker:Well, if it were just a film about unification, I wouldnít have done it. Unification is the historical backdrop. But I wanted to do a family story - the kind of story I like most. I like the fact that somebody is making up a world which doesnít exist any longer just to save his motherís life. What seems like a very simple plan in the beginning becomes more and more complicated. Alex gets more and more obsessed with his plan and has to avail himself of fake news, forgery and stuff like that. Those were the most interesting parts for me. The historical background was interesting as well, but in the end, it is just background. Itís not really a film about German unification.
East Germany fell fourteen years ago. Why did you make this film so long after unification?
Becker:Well, it always takes some time and some distance to get a better view on things. When you write in the thick of something - in the middle of dramatic historical events - you donít really see whatís going on. Most of the time people are so involved in everyday life with all of its problems. So you donít want to see that in the cinema. And filmmakers donít want to deal with that right away. And it always takes some time to be able to laugh about yourself and about the situation.
Daniel Bruehl, you are from Cologne, in the western part of the country, but you played an East German. How did that feel?
Daniel BrŁhl:At first I was kind of afraid because my knowledge about the GDR was miniscule. I didnít have any experience with it at all. I didnít have family in East Germany. But when I read this script, I realized that the focus is really on the relationship between mother and son. I thought that I could easily identify myself with this character of Alex. So I wasnít worried when I went to the audition.
How have people reacted towards you after the film?
BrŁhl:It was unbelievably successful. More than six million people saw the movie in Europe. It was especially successful in Berlin. I have conversations with people almost daily. They come up to me a lot in supermarkets with bottle bottom glasses (part of a joke in the film). I ended up in a lot of funny situations.
What are your plans for the future? What are you doing next?
BrŁhl:I just finished my first English film, which I shot in England a few months ago. I also went to the Berlinale film festival for the German premiere of a film about the 1920s. Now, I have a short break before I shoot another film with director Sebastian Schipper in Germany in April.
To Wolfgang Becker: What about you? Whatís next?
Becker:We still have some promotion work for "Good-bye, Lenin!" but that will be finished in February. Then I think Iíll have to take a break because I just finished an entire year of promotion work for this film. I have to look at what to do next because there wasnít time in between to write a script. Unfortunately, no one has offered me a good script up to now; so, I either have to write a script myself or find a novel to adapt. There are some ideas but they are too small to talk about.
Republished with permission from "The Week in Germany"
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