Directed by German film-maker Wolfgang Becker and starring Daniel Brühl (Alex) and Katrin Saß (Christiane), Goodbye Lenin! (2003) chronicles of the life of a Berlin family during the pivotal years of the German reunification in 1989-90 with a great mixture of tragedy, humour and satire. Alex’s mother Christiane accidentally falls into a coma in October 1989 only to reawaken eight months later. To protect her from the potential shock of finding out she now lives in a different country, Alex pretends nothing has changed.
Released more than a decade after the fall of the Berlin wall, Goodbye Lenin! did a lot to encourage the “Ostalgie” phenomenon, this particular nostalgia for certain aspects of daily life under the socialist regime of the German Democratic Republic such as Trabant cars, old state TV programmes or East-German foodstuff. This sentimental yearning for the ideals of a society which promoted a strong sense of comradeship and provided full employment is also personified in the film through the character of Alex’s mother.
Coming across a poster advertising a concert in Berlin by French composer Yann Tiersen prompted Wolfgang Becker to request a meeting with the musician. As the director remarked:
What inspired me to ask Yann to write the score for “Goodbye Lenin!” was his talent for composing music that has melancholic and sad qualities but that is never oppressive or depressing. […] One of the difficulties with this film was to strike a balance between comedy and tragedy. Goodbye Lenin! – DVD extras
Yann Tiersen’s score wonderfully manages to achieve this delicate balance with bittersweet and moving pieces like “Summer 78”, the main theme which reoccurs throughout the film in the form of several orchestral variations.
At the same time, snippets of late-1970s news bulletins or of shaky super 8 video footage of family holidays at the country dacha set to the minor chords of Yann Tiersen’s music all serve to amplify this nostalgia for life in the former GDR and for a happy childhood with a united and healthy family.