Welcome to the Time Machine

in 25th International Festival of New Latin American Cinema

by Jan Schulz-Ojala

Good Bye, Lenin! again? After the never-ending success stories about Wolfgang Becker’s German and European box office hit, it might be a bit boring for film buffs to talk again about this world surprise of the year. It is necessary to underline that Good Bye, Lenin! was not only a good opener for the German sidebar Muestra de Cine Aleman of the 25th Havana Film Festival, it was the talk of the town for the entire festival period.

People were queuing for hours in front of the sidebar cinema 23 y 12, additional screenings were programmed because of the surprising success. There was even some trouble with the police when hundreds of film fans tried to storm the doors of the theatre. The Havana Film Festival might be famous for its fantastic atmosphere, but such scenes of collective fascination are rare even in this hot Caribbean movie capital for ten days. They might not be described in the good old revolutionary newspaper Granma or published in the festival’s dailies, but word-of-mouth runs around quickly and so everybody knows about it immediately which makes the success only bigger and bigger.

Of course the surprise is not a real one — for the Cubans Good Bye, Lenin! is a fascinating time machine into the near future (for only two pesos entrance fees, which is less than ten euro cents!). The film about a young man holding up the illusion of socialist everyday life for his dying mother after the fall of Berlin wall is like a mirror of many things to happen in Cuba, too. Of course the Cubans want to have a look into this mirror — at least for two hours in a movie theatre.

Eight screenings in ten days, all sold out quickly. Nobody wants to miss this opportunity — because nobody knows whether the film will be programmed later in a movie theatre. Most people believe this won’t happen in Fidel’s Cuba – because the unavoidable fate of every communist country may look too realistic.

Talking to Cubans in the streets, you can experience a real surprise. The Havana public of Good Bye, Lenin! does not see the film the way we do — as a sensitive, humorist and melancholic flashback towards a political utopia. Some of the audience, even the young ones, enter the world of the film like in a dream which could become reality in some better socialism. Cubans don’t think about Good Bye Lenin! as the remains of a historic period but as the last dream of the Cuban time machine.