As a boy living in East Berlin in 1979, Alex Kerner (Daniel Bruehl) dreamed of representing his beloved GDR in space, just like his hero the cosmonaut Sigmund Jaehn. Ten years later, and his disillusionment leads him to join a youth march against the State, where the sight of his brutal arrest causes his idealistic mother Christiane (Kathrin Sass) to have a heart attack and sink into a coma. Eight months later, when Christiane wakes up, her doctor warns Alex that she must be protected from any excitement - and so Alex sets out to conceal the shock of reunification from Christiane, helped by his Russian girlfriend Lara (Chulpan Khamatova), his sister Ariane (Maria Simon), his colleague Denis (Florian Lukas) and various friends and neighbours. A deceit which starts out as a simple Communist-era makeover of their apartment spirals out of control as Christiane regains the ability to walk, and soon Alex's creative lies escalate into no less than a thorough reinterpretation of the entire relationship between East and West, where the world he conjures for his mother starts to resemble neither the old world she left behind nor the new one she has entered, but rather the utopian ideal of which they had both always dreamed.
Alex's voiceover commentary is suffused with the kind of familiar double-speak which becomes second nature to those who have lived under a repressive government, except that not even the new West, with all the unemployment and social iniquity that it brings, is immune from his dry irony. The absurdly elaborate attempts to shelter his mother from reality are very funny, but his determination, inspired as it by a deep affection for his mother, is also touching, making him one of the most likeable onscreen clowns of recent times.
Wolfgang Becker's skills in writing are matched by his director's eye for striking settings (like a fully furnished flat with an entire wall missing) and resonant images (like a brass torso of Lenin being lifted overhead by a helicopter - a bittersweet homage to the bittersweet opening shot of Fellini's 'La Dolce Vita', with its crucified Jesus on a helicopter above hedonist, consumerist Rome). The film combines fairytale elements with actual documentary footage, and the personal with the political, creating a contemporary allegory of the dreams and delusions upon which the lives of East Germans were sustained.
'Good Bye, Lenin!' is a satire, as entertaining as it is reflective, on the difficult compromises and adjustments in thought required by reunification, when enemies have become friends and old dreams have passed their used-by date. Highly recommended.