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Culture

Berlinale Log: Red or Dead

In the surprise hit German flick at the Berlin Film Festival, an East German teen tries to recreate the communist lifestyle after the fall of the Wall in order to save his ailing mother.

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Actor Daniel Brühl stars in "Good Bye, Lenin".

Sunday, 2:30 p.m., Berlinale Palace Cinema: One long joke? Or a tale told to enlighten, illuminate and inform? Those were the questions buzzing in the heads of those attending the first public screening of Wolfgang Becker’s "Goodbye, Lenin!" on Sunday.

Nichts Bereuen

Daniel Brühl

Set at the time of the fall of the Wall, Becker’s new film is about an eastern German family that attempts to recreate East German life in order to save their ailing mother. For months, the life of Alex, played by young German actor Daniel Brühl (photo), revolves around digging up relics from the former communist state, bribing the neighbors to play their old selves, and even making up his own GDR television. It's all part of an elaborate illusion he's created in order to make sure his mother -- who falls into a coma, missing one of history's most-important chapters, and wakes up in a frail condition eight months later -- doesn’t excite herself over the news of German reunification.

A film full of colorful images of Brühl filling pickles from Holland into legendary east German glasses of "Spreewald Pickles" or making up excuses for a Coca-Cola advertisement outside the sick mother’s window -- the film offers both a reflection and a parody on the former GDR. At times, the film had the audience breathless with laughter. But only 12 years have passed since the communists relinquished power and some showed their discomfort with the thought of making a joke of Germany's difficult split history.

5:00 p.m., Grand Hyatt: At a press conference following the screening, director Becker is joined by German actor Daniel Brühl, a boyish figure in his mid-20s with light brown hair and medium height. A person sitting in the row behind me whispers, "a typical West German." "He's got a face that doesn't fit the role of an East Berliner." Indeed, Brühl comes from Cologne and he admits to the journalists gathered that he was never really interested in life on the other side of the German border. "Unification didn't interest us in Cologne," he recalls, grinning sheepishly. The eastern German who plays his mother in the film, Catrin Sass, retorts: "Not like us, we were always interested in what went on in the West!" Although Becker says he originally intended to cast only East Germans to play East Germans in the movie, he opted to put Brühl and Sass in the mother-son role as a reprisal of their work together in a crime movie five years earlier. Becker said he hoped to reprise the chemistry here.

-- Louise Brown