movie film review | chris tookey

Lives of Others/ Das Leben der Anderen

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  Lives of Others/ Das Leben der Anderen Review
Tookey's Rating
10 /10
Average Rating
8.65 /10
Sebastian Koch , Ulrich Muhe , Martina Gedeck
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Directed by: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Written by: Quirin Berg, Max Weidemann

Released: 2006
Genre: DRAMA
Origin: Germany
Colour: C
Length: 138

The Lives of Others won Best Foreign-Language Picture at the Oscars – which was a disgrace. If there had been any justice, it should also have won Best Picture, Director, Screenplay and Actor (for Ulrich Muhe). This is by far the most memorable and perfectly crafted movie to have reached us so far in 2007: a classic that I’m sure will still be watched in 50 years time.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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It’s a very superior thriller and psychological drama, set mainly in 1984, about an East German playwright (Sebastian Koch) who thinks he is well in with the Communist authorities, and anxious to prevent his liberal-leaning theatrical associates from doing anything that might get them into trouble.

But a corpulent East German minister (Thomas Thieme) has eyes for the playwright’s sexy girlfriend (Martina Gedeck). The minister wants the playwright out of the way and instructs the splendidly seedy, sweatily obedient Lieutenant Colonel Grubitz (Ulrich Tukur), who’s the philistine Head of the Culture Department at State Security, or Stasi, to institute surveillance.

The Stasi operative given the job of bugging the writer’s apartment is the stern-faced, hard-line interrogator Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Muhe, pictured). But the more Wiesler spies on the showbiz couple, the less comfortable he feels.The film traces the tense, moving and dangerous four-way relationship that develops between Grubitz, Wiesler, the playwright and his mistress.

Though clearly indebted to George Orwell’s novel 1984 and Francis Ford Coppola’s movie The Conversation, it’s startlingly original. No film has done a better job of exploring the rising terror of retaining one’s principles inside a police state.

A hugely talented first-time director, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, reproduces the minutiae of Stasi investigation with chilling accuracy. More importantly, though, he shows the effects on the human spirit of life under a repressive regime.

That may sound depressing; but the film-maker finds just enough hope of redemption to make a tragedy that ends up raising the spirit.

It has even been accused of being sentimental about the Stasi, though there is none of the nostalgia for East German Communism that made me uneasy about that highly acclaimed German comedy of 2002, Good Bye Lenin. I defy anyone to watch The Lives of Others and come away without feelings of the deepest revulsion for the Stasi, and a determination that nothing of its kind must ever happen here.

Apart from this picture’s timely message about the need to preserve our liberties, it’s gripping because its twists and turns arise from realistic characters, not from some hack writer’s adherence to cinematic formula, or from producers’ mercenary desire to please undemanding teenage Americans on the first weekend of release.

All the actors are marvellous, but the cadaverous Ulrich Muhe – last seen as Doctor Mengele in Costa-Gavras’s undervalued Amen - is extraordinary.

Almost as extraordinary is the fact that Muhe himself discovered from his Stasi files, released after the fall of the Berlin Wall, that he himself had been under surveillance not only by four of his fellow-actors in Berlin theatre, but also by his wife of six years.

When asked about he prepared for the role, Muhe answered “I remembered”.

Go and see this movie and you’ll remember how life felt in East Germany during the 1980s, just as clearly and almost as painfully as if you’d lived there yourself.

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