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Good Bye, Lenin!

Try as you might, you just can't stop progress. You might be able to fend it off for awhile, as devoted son Alex (Daniel Bruhl) discovers in Good Bye, Lenin! (2003) when he attempts to re-create East Germany for his ill mother Christiane (Katrin Sass). But ultimately, Western culture is like nature: It finds a way. Of course, Alex is probably the only citizen of East Berlin bemoaning that fact in 1990, eight months after the triumphant fall of the Berlin Wall. But then, he's probably also the only one with a fervently socialist mother who's just come out of a coma and risks a relapse (or worse) if she's faced with any sort of shock or trauma. Hoping to spare her for as long as possible from the news that her beloved republic is no more — and suffering from plenty of guilt, since the sight of him at the wall the night it fell was part of what prompted his mother's initial heart attack — Alex goes to elaborate lengths to restore the small world of the family's apartment, only to find himself thwarted at every step. His mother's favorite brand of pickles? Already replaced by Western brands. The nightly news? Full of stories his mother can't hear. His sister's dowdy East German clothes? Consigned to the trash bin months ago in favor of more stylish duds. As Alex's obsession with maintaining the illusion reaches new heights, both his sister Ariane (Maria Simon) and his new girlfriend Lara (Chulpan Khamatova) get fed up, and Alex has to make some tricky decisions. Good Bye, Lenin! offers plenty of laughs — some of Alex's schemes (and the way he spins near-disasters) are hilarious, and his movie-obsessed friend Denis (Florian Lukas) is good for comic relief — but in the end it's much more poignant than one might expect. Alex's tender, protective feelings for Christiane are sweetly genuine, thanks to earnest performances by Bruhl and Sass. Director Wolfgang Becker makes Alex's clashing interests — his mother's health and his youthful delight at the changes in his world — compelling and fascinating: Becker's re-creation of socialist East Germany is eye-opening. Thanks to the Cold War, communist countries like East Germany and Russia earned bleak, repressive reputations. But in Good Bye, Lenin! we see that plenty of socialist citizens lived happy, everyday lives — and that some even loved their government and its ideals. The influx of Western culture may have been inevitable, but thanks to this charming film, we see that there was plenty in the East worth saving. Columbia TriStar brings Good Bye, Lenin! to DVD in a clear anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) accompanied by Dolby Digital 5.1 audio in the original German with optional English subtitles. Extras include 10 deleted scenes, two subtitled commentary tracks (one from Becker, the other from cast members such as Bruhl and Sass), a 20-minute visual-effects featurette (it turns out Alex wasn't the only one who had to work hard to restore East Germany), a very brief behind-the-scenes video montage, uncut versions of the fake "Aktuelle Kamera" news stories used in the film, and previews. Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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