This week marks 25 years since everyday Germans took to the Berlin Wall with picks and pointy objects, to tear down the notorious physical and symbolic barrier between East and West.
The fall of the wall might have triggered a swift end to communism throughout greater Europe, but it took nearly 15 years for Germany’s filmmakers to emerge with stories about the troubling subject of East Germany’s 45 years of Stalinism. However, when Good Bye Lenin! and The Lives of Others emerged in the fullness of time, the world stood up, took notice, and agreed it was worth the wait.
The two movies are worlds apart in their tone and their treatment of the East German experience of communism, and their dual approaches to story of a people divided make them the perfect double-bill on this landmark anniversary. You can watch both of them for free at SBS on Demand right now.
Good Bye, Lenin! (update: since expired)
Wolfgang Becker’s much-admired movie works both as a cheeky satire of Ostalgie – the trend toward misty-eyed nostalgia for remnants of the bad old days – and a bittersweet story of caring for an ailing parent.
A cheery True Believer has invested her heart soul and best years into campaigning for Communism, and her thankless efforts to sway unconvinced comrades end up affecting her ticker. When she awakes from an eight-month coma in December 1989, her children are under doctor’s orders to shield her from any nasty surprises. So begins a farcical attempt to disguise the fact that the wall is weg, Communism is kaput and Coke is It (at least, according to the ad banner that is now visible from her bedroom window).
The Lives of Others
There’s nothing the least bit Ostalgic about Florian Henckel von Donersmarck’s psychological thriller about the daily life under the Stasi (and I do mean under: in this 2006 foreign language Oscar winner the secret police agent sits, crouched, in the ceiling).
A meticulous captain of the Stasi listens intently for evidence of disloyalty among the cultural elite. His mark is a playwright named Dreyman, a handsome, learned intellectual, whose ongoing loyalty to the East German version of socialism, strikes the Stasi as too good to be true. The act of surveillance requires unblinking Teutonic precision, but when pettiness, spite and desperation start to creep into the picture, you can see the first cracks emerge in the wall.