The Lives Of Others

The Lives Of Others

*****

Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

The Lives of Others is a chilling, but ultimately uplifting glimpse into the lives of those trapped within the repressive regime of East Germany.

The film follows a surveillance operation upon a playwright, and the consequences of that investigation. The focus upon East Germany's artistic community extends to the look of the film – the sets are a key component of the action, clearly reflecting the nature of their inhabitants and providing glimpses into the workings of the system.

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Ulrich Mühe is a revelation as eavesdropper par excellence Hauptman Gerd Weisler. His existence is that of a loyal member of the Stasi, “the sword and shield of the party”. The film opens with a lecture on interrogation methods, and in these few short scenes we are given the measure of the man. He is meticulous, observant, and dedicated. While he is naturally suspicious of Sebastian Koch's Georg Dreyman, baser motives are responsible for the orders to bug the author's home. The operation is launched in 1984, and the film follows it all the way to its conclusion. In addition to a strong script and astonishing performances from the central actors (including Martina Gedeck at the centre of events), The Lives Of Others benefits from a credible extended cast. Dreyman's artistic brethren are craftily drawn, and the rebellion against the republic is cautiously and carefully built.

When a suspect is asked if they believe they might have been arrested on a whim they are reminded that to do so is to doubt the Republic's “humanistic system”, a crime in and of itself. Throughout the film it is these small touches, these tiny details that give it solidity. From the presence or absence of chair coverings to the 'Fresh Fish' delivery truck that carries prisoners and informers to and from the Stasi headquarters The Lives of Others shows the benefits of careful observation.

The obvious counterpoint to this film is 2003's Goodbye Lenin! but where its humour was tinged by sadness and nostalgia, the humour of The Lives of Others is much darker. The Stasi have the power of life and death, with no check to their authority except their honour, and there are few good men among them. The line between comedy and tragedy is hard to draw, but the humour here is far closer to that of Dr. Strangelove; it may be funny, but it is based on horrifying truths.

Das Lebern Der Anderen has already been named European Film of the Year, and was nominated for Best Foreign Film at this year's Oscars. It deserves all the praise it has garnered, and your attention.

Reviewed on: 20 Feb 2007
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East German secret police spy on a playwright and follow the course of his life over a number of years.
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Read more The Lives Of Others reviews:

Chris *****
Anton Bitel ****1/2

Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

Writer: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

Starring: Martina Gedeck, Ulrich Mühe, Sebastian Koch, Ulrich Tukur, Thomas Thieme

Year: 2006

Runtime: 137 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Germany


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If you like this, try:

Downfall
Goodbye Lenin!
Mephisto