Good Bye Lenin!

Daniel Brühl


A movie for every day of the year – a good one



12 June


Ronald Reagan’s “tear down this wall” speech, 1987

On this day in 1987, US president Ronald Reagan made a speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, where the Berlin Wall erected in 1961 by the Soviets bisected the city, making the Wall and Berlin the symbol of the Cold War. The speech was made in honour of Berlin’s 750th anniversary and in a climate of increasing openness and freedom in the Soviet-controlled Eastern Bloc. The speech has a famous peroration “General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” It was aimed partly at the leader of the Soviet Union, mostly at the world’s media and was a rhythmic and political echo of President Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech made in 1963 just after the Berlin Wall had gone up. The line was either written by speechwriter Peter Robinson, and approved by Reagan in the face of opposition by his White House staff (according to Robinson), or it was added by Reagan himself to Robinson’s speech (according to Reagan’s chief speechwriter, Anthony R Dolan). Either way, just over two years later, the Wall was torn down, by people from East Germany rather than Mr Gorbachev.




Good Bye Lenin! (2003, dir: Wolfgang Becker)

A mother (Katrin Sass) in East Berlin in the days before the Wall comes down, sees her son Alex (Daniel Brühl) being beaten on TV by the police. The shock provokes some embolism, aneurysm, something, and she falls into a deep coma. While she’s out of the game, the Wall comes down, Communism ends, East Berlin is reunited with the West. Then, wonder of wonders, she recovers, though the doctors warn Alex that the slightest shock could kill her. And so begins a farce, in which the son tries make as if it’s still business as usual for the old regime, of which she was a fanatical supporter. As the old East Berlin is flooded with shiny new products from the capitalist West, Alex is forced into increasingly desperate corners trying to find the drab old stuff that his mother recognises, going dumpster diving to find discarded products, old East-bloc tat. And, a touch of luck this, Alex works selling satellite systems, so has access to the technology to make his own bogus, Communist-style news broadcasts, which he feeds directly to his mother at home.

Eventually, after increasingly frantic running around, of course the mother confronts the son with something he can’t explain – and then, as in all farces, we watch as the bait squirms on the hook. It’s the abundant adverts for Coca Cola, in Alex’s case. And how he explains it is a mark of the film’s success – it’s funny, clever, and sort of just about plausible. And it gives the film a third act.

Good Bye Lenin! is the key film in the cultural moment that came after the initial flush of liberation had waned and former East Germans were beginning to make an objective appraisal of what they now had, and what they had lost. This “Ostalgia” manifested itself often in kitsch ways – filthy old Trabant cars were suddenly cool again, as were tight T shirts emblazoned with GDR. And within only a few years it was gone – see The Lives of Others for a film that effectively said to the Ostalgiacs, “now just hang on a minute”. Cleverly having its cake and eating it, Good Bye Lenin! works whether the viewer has close knowledge of the workings of East Berlin under communism and regardless of political viewpoint because at its simplest it’s a comedy about generational change, and because jokes about hiding stuff from your mother is something that most of us can relate to. And because to a large extent our past, good or bad, is our identity, and that psychological knot is something we can all recognise too.



Why Watch?


  • Rip Van Winkle updated
  • Recent history done with a light touch
  • An early appearance of Daniel Brühl (Rush)
  • The key Ostalgia movie


© Steve Morrissey 2014



Good Bye Lenin! –  at Amazon






Chris Hemsworth as James Hunt


A movie for every day of the year – a good one



18 February



Enzo Ferrari born, 1898

On this day in 1898, Enzo Anselmo Ferrari was born. The man who would later be known as Il Commendatore, founder and leader of the Ferrari racing team (and car manufacturer) was taken to a racing track as a kid and realised immediately that he wanted to be a driver. By the early 1920s he was Alfa Romeo’s test driver, and when the company decided to outsource their racing unit, it was Ferrari that ran it. He went solo during the Second World War, during which time Alfa paid him not to compete, and by the end of the war was ready with his first car, the game-changing 125, a two-seated GT car that became the basis for Ferrari’s first vehicle when the new fangled Formula 1 launched. Unlike other manufacturers, who see race cars as a testbed for road car production, Ferrari was never that interested in road cars, and saw them largely as a way of defraying the huge expense of racing. He stayed true to his first love, even after he sold 50 per cent of the company to Fiat in 1969, remaining totally in control of the racing side of things right up to his death in 1988, aged 90.




Rush (2013, dir: Ron Howard)

A thrilling, period-perfect and beautifully written film about the rivalry between Englishman James Hunt and Austrian Niki Lauda, whose duelling on the track came to a head in the 1976 Formula 1 season. The fact that Rush exists at all, on this scale at least, must in large part be down to Senna, the 2010 documentary about the rivalry between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost which had turned out to be a surprise hit. Formula 1 – a graveyard for film-makers since actor Steve McQueen busted himself with Le Mans – could sell cinema tickets it seemed. In the personalities of Hunt and Lauda director Ron Howard and writer Peter Morgan have chosen well. Hunt’s skills as a driver were debatable – he wasn’t called Hunt the Shunt for nothing – but he had flair and it can’t be denied that he was a good looking man. Cut to the two opening scene that set the tone for the whole film and we have Lauda in voiceover explaining that Formula 1 in the 1970s is deadly (“Each year 25 drivers line up on the start line for Formula 1. Each year, two of us die.”) Cut to Hunt standing in the doorway of a hospital accident room, racesuit unzipped to the waist, looking up through his eyelashes at a weak-kneed nurse like a Greek god out for a good time. Hunt is played by Chris Hemsworth, who nails the drawling British goodtime Charlie accent, while Daniel Brühl does the harder job of bottling Lauda, a tactician, a technician, a driving genius. Rush’s skill is to tell the story of that year – when Lauda crashed and literally burned, allowing Hunt a chance to steal the driver’s championship – without letting the facts get in the way of a good story. So we have the girls and the glory, the gladiatorial joust of driving at the edge of a car’s (and a human’s) abilities, and most of all the rivalry between two very different types of human beings – the grasshopper and the ant, as Aesop would have said. Who was the better driver? The film is generous to Hunt though it’s obvious that it was Lauda. It’s Ron Howard’s best film – big, thrilling, funny, intelligent, atmospheric and pretty much faultlessly made. And, having learnt the lesson from history, Howard doesn’t make the mistake of so many other race films – there isn’t actually that much track action.



Why Watch?


  • Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl, both perfect
  • 1970s hedonism perfectly conjured
  • Doesn’t shy away from the fact that F1 was a brutal, deadly sport
  • Olivia Wilde, just one among a standout cast


© Steve Morrissey 2014



Rush – at Amazon






Niki Lauda and James Hunt in the pits




Is Rush – about the rivalry between 1970s Formula 1 drivers Niki Lauda and James Hunt – Ron Howard’s best film yet? After those terrible Da Vinci Code films recently, made for who knows what favour to the studio, this might not seem like much of a claim. But let’s not forget that Howard made Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind and Frost/Nixon.

If there’s one thing uniting those three films and Rush it’s that they’re all based firmly on real events. And yes, to bolster the argument, it’s necessary to forget about boxing drama Cinderella Man, Russell Crowe’s Rocky, also based on the life of a real man, but only of value to archaeologists of Hollywood cliché.

But back to Rush, which takes place in the 1970s, when Formula 1 was still genuinely dangerous – “Each year 25 of us line up at the start and each year two of us will die” intones Daniel Brühl’s Niki Lauda as the film gets going. And we’re introduced to the two men who are the twin poles of the film. James Hunt, the playboy, the swaggering cock known as Hunt the Shunt, for obvious reasons. And Niki Lauda, the tactician, the one who went to bed early while his fellow drivers partied, nicknamed, because of his prominent teeth, “the Rat”.

Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl play the drivers, Hemsworth excellent as the Englishman Hunt, perhaps a yah too far here and there in the accent, but his blond-god looks, the air of rich-boy self-assurance, the smell of danger because Hunt at some deep down level wants to win rather than live, Hemsworth has all that. And good though Hemsworth is, Daniel Brühl is even better as the Austrian Lauda, a far harder role to make sympathetic, the roundhead to Hunt’s cavalier.

The film follows them from first knockings at low-end Formula 3 meets to the defining season in both men’s careers, 1976. Formula 1 fans will already understand the significance of that year – the focus is firmly on the crash at the German Grand Prix when Lauda was horribly burned, an accident that nearly killed him and packed him off to hospital, where he stayed while his fellow drivers had the luxury of three Grand Prix without him.

Peter Morgan’s psychologically astute screenplay is a thing of wonder, so concise, so faithful to the facts and yet never getting bogged down in detail, but over this point it draws the thinnest of veils – there is absolutely no way that Hunt could have won the Drivers Championship that year, unless Lauda had crashed. Lauda was so far ahead that he could almost afford to lose three races. Indeed, he came back at Tokyo, the last race of the season, and was still in a position to win. And it is to Morgan’s credit that the actual story – the truth of the matter – is still discernible through the shifts of emphases necessary to make this look like a meeting of equals.

What actually happened I won’t say, though Morgan’s screenplay doesn’t rely on detailed knowledge of racing, or even a liking of the sport, to make the film work. Howard’s direction – lush here, urgent there – and the exquisite casting throw a layer of glamour and nostalgia over the events that effectively buffer us from odd moments of mayhem and gore. Olivia Wilde seems particularly in the 1970s groove as Suzy, the woman Hunt fell for in an instant, married even quicker, tired of almost as quickly. At which point he passed her on, with a sigh of relief, to Richard Burton. Christian McKay, so good as Orson Welles in the almost unseen Orson and Me, is similarly expansive here as team owner Lord Hesketh, the unconventional rich kid whose butler would serve champagne in the pits.

This is 1970s Formula 1 racing as a war between jousting knights of the track but also as a battle between sex and death. It’s a very very good film.


© Steve Morrissey 2013



Rush – Watch it or buy it at Amazon