Thursday, August 23, 2007

Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others)

The film opens solidly with two climbing Stasi officers watching a play in East Germany in the mid-1980's. We hear them discuss the stunning lead actress, the playwright, and the Minister of Culture, all of whom play an important role in this movie.

The successful dramatist Georg Dreyman and his live-in girlfriend Christa-Marie Sieland, a popular actress, are the toast of East Berlin's intellectual circles even though they don't always think and talk the party line. When the Minister of Culture becomes enamored of Christa-Marie, he orders surveillance of Georg in order to destroy his competition. Wiretap expert Gerd Wiesler is assigned to the case. However, donning the earphones for hours on end, Wiesler becomes a bit too fascinated with the couple.

There are several stories here, interwoven beautifully. We watch Georg try to live an artist's life while denying the political and social upheaval around him. Everyone likes him, even the Stasi officers, but many of his artist friends are suffering from the restrictive regime. Christa-Marie has a wonderful relationship with Georg, but she has her own artistic problems, problems that become larger when Minister Hempf insists on her cooperation. And perhaps the most intriguing story of all is the Stasi officer Wiesler. He used to see things simply in the republic, and his role was to assist the state in maintaining socialist ideals. However, as he listens to the conversations of the couple in their apartment, he becomes involved with them, curious about the art Georg fiercely protects. And when he sees others within his secret police abuse their power, he begins to doubt his own beliefs to the point of deception, and eventually, action.

The film has a real feel to it, as if you're living in fear in a 1984-type fascist government, and you're quickly involved in all the players. There are no real villains here, even though the Stasi is an easy one. Wiesler's boss, Grubitz, is charming and, even when he knows he's facing his greatest challenge, civil. The only true villain without redemption is Minister Hempf, about whom "absolute power corrupts absolutely" is a truism.

The film takes on an epic quality halfway through the film as suspense builds, and as we see that the story doesn't just end after watching these people after a few weeks. The last half an hour propels us towards an unpredictable turn of events, and thrusts the film into the realm of the unforgettable.

The Lives of Others was in a competition for Best Foreign Film last year, and won over the immensely popular Pan's Labyrinth. Let's hope that curiosity gained the film a few viewers now that it's out on DVD. Like me.

Thumb's up.


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