Thursday, 14 November 2013

Film #15: The Lives of Others (15)

Released: 2006
Directed by: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Original title: Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others)

Moving house has meant I’ve struggled to find the time to watch any films recently. Now that my DVDs are out of storage, what could be better than revisiting one of the best German movies I’ve ever seen, the 2007 winner of the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film? 

The Lives of Others opens with Stasi agent Wiesler (the late Ulrich Mühe) teaching a class on interrogation techniques, putting a cross against the name of a student who suggests it might be inhumane. Soon after, Wiesler and his boss are ordered to monitor playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) in the hope that they will dig up enough dirt to get him out of the way and leave his girlfriend, actress Christa-Maria (Martina Gedeck), open to the less than appealing advances of a government minister.

Immediately, the vibrancy of East Berlin’s artistic community contrasts with Wiesler’s sparse, lonely existence, and it is not long before he realises just how much joy has been leached from his world by the regime under which he operates. Identifying more and more with Dreyman’s politics, Wiesler begins to omit information from his reports to save the writer from imprisonment. However, his actions cannot continue unchecked, and ultimately end in tragedy.

A sensational cast moves around a fantastic performance from Ulrich Mühe; whilst his character may seem unassuming and becomes more sympathetic as the film progresses, the occasional flash of menace reminds us that he has made a career of persecuting others and ruining their lives. As a Stasi agent, he has infiltrated every aspect of his targets’ lives, turning lovers against lovers and neighbours against neighbours with a mere hint of how their families – or themselves – will suffer. 

I suspect I may be preaching to the converted here, but I really can’t recommend this film enough.

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