Beijing now boasts wildly popular "Mao nostalgia" restaurants with peasant fare on the menu and retro propaganda decor straight out of the Cultural Revolution. Similarly, a Berlin company is planning an East Germany theme park, complete with surly border guards. In times of uncertainty people often yearn for the familiar, no matter how dark.
Christiane Kerner yearns for Spreewald pickles in Good Bye, Lenin!, opening this weekend at Burlington's Roxy. The middle-aged woman, an ardent socialist, has just awoken from an eight-month coma spanning the German Democratic Republic's demise. She doesn't realize that Communism is kaput. Iron Curtain goods like her favorite preserved cucumbers have disappeared from stores, but it's easy to find a Double Whopper with cheese.
Warned by doctors that the still-fragile Christiane (Katrin Sass) can't withstand a shock, her son Alex tries to keep mom blissfully unaware of the great historic shift that's taken place. He and his sister Ariane (Maria Simon), who works at a previously verboten Burger King, have already adapted to capitalism. Alex sells TV satellite dishes door to door.
Directed by Wolfgang Becker, the satirical film considers the consequences of treasuring the past and failing to understand the present. Although his characters are navigating a glittery new era, they discover that the bureaucracy remains every bit as inane as it was in the bad old days.
Alex, played by Daniel Bruhl, narrates the story, which begins with a quick review of the Kerner family fortunes: When Christiane's husband escapes to the West, she raises the kids with unquestioning reverence for the patriarchal totalitarian state. In 1989, after seeing her son being arrested at an anti-government demonstration, she collapses.
Once Christiane comes to, Alex's mission is to shield her from the truth. That requires extraordinary effort. He essentially constructs a GDR theme park in their drab apartment, where she is confined to complete bed rest near her framed poster of Che Guevara.
In some of the funniest sequences, Alex and his pal Denis (Florian Lukas), an aspiring filmmaker, produce triumphantly patriotic pre-reunification news reports. Thanks to a hidden VCR, they can "broadcast" these fake programs on Christiane's television.
Witty and inventive, Good Bye, Lenin! begins to wear out its welcome when the deliciously sardonic tone turns somewhat saccharine. Becker should have kept the narrative as pungent as a Spreewald pickle.
Distributors shortened The Seven Samurai before its 1954 U.S. release in the belief that American audiences would have no patience for a 207-minute Japanese epic. But on April 30 the Shelburne Film Series will screen the uncut version of Akira Kurosawa's black-and-white masterpiece about 15th-century soldiers of fortune recruited to protect a poor agricultural village from marauding bandits. Even if seats at the Town Offices Building are nominally comfortable, it might be wise to bring along cushions or pillows for a three-and-a-half-hour picture. The free 6:30 p.m. event is sponsored by the Vermont Film Commission and the Shelburne Craft School.
Few sagas are sadder to depict
than the plight of Planet Earth's estimated 15 million refugees. Megan Mylan and John Shenk apparently spent more than a year shooting Lost Boys of the Sudan, which chronicles two young men from Africa who immigrate to our shores as part of the tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
On May 7 and 8, the Roxy will host 7 p.m. screenings of the documentary to benefit the Sudan Education Fund. It's a joint venture of the Vermont Interna-tional Film Festival and the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program, which brought about 40 "Lost Boys" to the Green Mountain State in 2001.
Last year the fest showed In This World, a gripping feature about two Afghanis -- one of them an adolescent -- who face terrible obstacles while trying to reach Europe. About 20,000 Sudanese kids, mostly orphans fleeing a civil war that killed millions in the late 1980s, encountered starvation, lions and other ordeals on their long walk to safety in Kenya. Peter and Santino are two personable guys from the Dinka tribe chosen for asylum in Texas, where they discover that the American Dream is a mixed bag.
This year's festival, unspooling from October 13 to 18, focuses on "images and issues of global concern." Accordingly, the annual Queen City cinematic extravaganza is among 16 founding members of the Human Rights Film Network, launched earlier this month in Prague with like-minded events in Seoul, Warsaw, Buenos Aires and points beyond.