Alex’s mother was in a coma for eight months, which just happened to be among the most eventful eight months in the history of Europe.
Alex was born in East Germany in 1966 and lived a contented family life with his parents and sister until his father defected to the West in ’78, leaving the family behind. Alex’s mother, Christiane, was devastated and her traumatic reaction was to become a model citizen, a good communist dedicated to the workers’ cause, and to teach young children to sing the kitschy anthems of utopia.
Her coma, precipitated by a heart attack, took place in October 1989 and by the time Christiane awoke her beloved German Democratic Republic was in its death throes — the Berlin Wall had fallen and the unification of Germany was at hand.
Alex, informed by his mother’s doctor that she was still in shaky health and that the slightest surprise could be fatal, set about to protect her from the changes that occurred during her coma.
Directed by Wolfgang Becker from a script by Becker and Bernd Lichtenberg, Lenin! is a nostalgic drama with a farcical premise. Alex’s elaborate schemes to prevent his mother from realizing how her world has changed are mildly comic and, despite the fact that she’s confined to her bedroom, increasingly implausible. More effective is the two-pronged aura of nostalgia: Alex, who narrates in voice-over, fondly remembers the heady days of promise when the wall first went down, while comrades, his mother’s contemporaries, go about missing the good old days, when at least a person knew where he or she stood. Though living under the communists engendered a great deal of political anxiety, the new capitalist system brought with it a different kind of insecurity, and Christiane’s old friends constantly complain to Alex about how their newly liberated country has gone to the dogs.
The film is also a family drama about a son’s devotion to his mother, and about her protective feelings toward her children. Those feelings led her to conceal the true story of their father’s departure — a deception that leads to a gently melancholy conclusion. Though Lenin! offers a little insight into a chaotic historical moment, it’s most effective when depicting the bittersweet confusion of family ties.
In German with English subtitles. Showing at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit) Friday and Saturday, March 26-27, at 7 and 9:30 p.m.; and on Sunday, March 28, at 4 and 7 p.m. Call 313-833-3237.
Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.