A staple of comedy is the growing lie. What starts out a simple seed (“No, sir – you look so…so…marvelous!”) blossoms into a garden of deception and spinning plates that would stagger any politician. The ultimate fun is when, running out of plates, time and energy the whole apparatus collapses. We drink in the anger of the explanations and say to our friends ‘should have been honest from the get-go’.
Good Bye, Lenin gives us no such moment. Featuring my first and best man-crush with Daniel Bruhl, this story is nothing more magnificent than a life-sized replica of the palace at Versailles made out of balanced cards. Some of the contrivances (happened to find unbroken glass jars of the exact kind with intact labels?) are a little out there, but we get the pay-off with the (should be) iconic sight of the statue halves of Lenin being flown to the West. The mother and stroke victim see the world as if should be to them, then pass away with their last breath being a contented sigh. A far better ending than plates crashing.
This movie is also a fair examination about what we would do to shield and protect our loved ones. How many of us would scour the city trying to find old glass jars? Talk our friends and other family members to carrying on the facade to a ridiculous level? Many people would have sat down with our mothers and tried to explain the changes in society. Many people would also end up burying our mothers shortly afterwards. Better to risk truth than take the simpler option? As anyone going through a higly-charged emotional situation can tell you: sometimes the lie is what’s needed.
The mother is an ardent Communist, loyal to the party and the struggle. Telling her that the very system she worked in and supported had vanished literally overnight would have killed her – the MC was told that his mother could not have a shock to her system. Now the stage is set – a page ripped from history, apparently – to see how long we can spin these plates. The plates spin for a long, long time thanks to the dedication of a single son to his mother.
Daniel Bruhl tackles this role with eagerness to help that is heartfelt. All the schemes he talks about and undertakes are done with an innocent sincerity. He never tries to wheedle anything from her, but tries to stay one step ahead as the elaborate scheme grows in complexity. In the end, the mother dies satisfied that her world is preserved and enduring not through a machination of her son, but by the coincidence of a helicopter flying overhead. Seems that God indeed, as Carl Reiner puts it, is a gag writer.
A lot people complain about foreign humor, but this movie proves that comedy has a language that surpasses borders, politics and woe. If you want something funny, but clever not crude – give Good Bye, Lenin! a look.