German comedy is usually thought of as an oxymoron, but Wolfgang Becker's "Good Bye Lenin!" manages to wring tears of joy and sadness out of a family’s experiences following the fall of the Berlin Wall. In Germany, the film took more money at the box office in its first month than the Harry Potter films. That really is magic.
Was this film as demanding to make as a lot of people say?
It was very demanding because the original locations in Berlin changed very fast after the fall of the Wall, and although we only had to take them back ten years, there's a big difference. There weren't any satellite dishes in East Berlin; there were no telephone booths; and, of course, there were only cars built up to 1989. So we had to control everything. The cost of doing that was underestimated by those who financed the film, I think, and we spent all our money in two weeks.
You had problems with weather and sick actors, too. Did this affect morale?
I really had to work as hard on that front as I did on the film. I'd never show them I am desperate. Never show them I am in a bad mood. Never show them I am pessimistic. I'd just say, "Ok boys and girls, let's just stick together and we'll do it really good."
You grew up in West Germany. How much research did you have to do?
Well, I could cross the border so I went to East Berlin and East Germany several times. It was not like I was making a film about some South Pacific island. I know what the city looked like; I still know how the city smelt, the colours, the way people were dressed. But, of course, I never lived a life there. That's a different thing.
So what did you do?
The scriptwriter [Bernd Lichtenberg] and I met young people who were about the age of our hero when the Wall came down, and asked them a few questions. We found out very fast that there is not a prototype biography in the GDR [German Democratic Republic]. Some people felt like they were in a big prison, other people were ok with the situation, some people suffered a lot under the political circumstances, other people didn't care about politics. After that we felt pretty much free about making up our own characters.
How do you account for the huge success of the film in Germany?
A lot of East Germans still have this inferiority complex, so how could they get along with their own history? With their own past? It was hard for them even to say, "I had a wonderful childhood because my parents loved me and I loved my parents. My first kiss was just perfect, and my first sex was perfect, and I have so many wonderful memories, although these memories took place in a country which was a feelgood dictatorship." The film is a symbolic funeral in dignity to all that, I think. It hit a nerve.
"Good Bye Lenin!" is released in UK cinemas on Friday 25th July 2003.