One of Germany’s hugest hits at home, Wolfgang Becker‘s bittersweet “Good Bye, Lenin!” has also gone on to become one of its hottest exports.
Yet the pic’s producers at Berlin-based X Filme were caught off guard when U.S. critics took issue with the film’s portrayal of Communism as something seemingly lighthearted and nostalgic: the New York Times even called the pic a “softhearted tribute to — of all things — Communism.”
The film, about a concerned son in East Berlin who manages to keep his ailing diehard socialist mother in the dark about the fall of the Berlin Wall and German unification for fear her condition may worsen, swept last year’s German as well as European Film Awards.
It’s raked in $80 million worldwide — $47 million of that in Germany. In the U.S. it grossed north of $4 million. Not bad for a film that cost just $5 million.
For X Filme and Sony Pictures Classics, however, the film presented an unexpected challenge.
The political history of East and West Germany, which is fundamental to the film’s story, made the pic a hard sell in the U.S..
Says X Filme’s Stefan Arndt: “We didn’t realize how touchy Americans would still be with the issue of socialism.”
Indeed, the Chicago Sun-Times’ Roger Ebert wrote, “What ‘Goodbye, Lenin!’ never quite deals with is the wrong-headedness of its heroine. Imagine a film named “Goodbye, Hitler!” in which a loving son tries to protect his cherished mother from news of the fall of the Third Reich.”
In marketing the film Stateside, the Cold War angle took a backseat to what Arndt says is the meat of the story: “It’s ultimately about the love of family — what wouldn’t you do for your mom.”