The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) (Germany) (2006)

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The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) (Germany) (2006)

Postby howardschumann(d) » Mon Feb 26, 2007 4:15 pm

THE LIVES OF OTHERS (Das Leben der Anderen)
Directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (2006), 137 minutes

German filmmakers, in contrast to their frank portrayals of Nazi horrors, have mostly dealt with the misdeeds of the Communist system by poking fun at the bumbling apparatchiks of the GDR in comedies such as Good Bye Lenin. Interestingly, 56% of the German people believe it is inappropriate to even discuss the Communists' wrongdoing and a rehabilitation campaign is now being waged by former Secret Police (Stasi) operatives who claim that East Germany was not a criminal state but only one that "served the people and obeyed the laws that were the laws of that time." A different point of view is offered, however, in The Lives of Others written and directed by 33-year old Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck who grew up in West Berlin.

Winner of the Oscar for Best Foreign Film and countless Lolas at the National German Film Awards, the film is a haunting look at the paranoia of the East German security apparatus in the year 1984, a paranoia that ended only with the dismantling of the Berlin Wall in November, 1989 and the eventual reunification of East and West. The film shows the Stasi using intimidation and disorientation as tools in operating a ruthless system of control and surveillance directed at artists and intellectuals suspected of opposing the GDR. While fictional, the film displays the totalitarian mentality in a way that transcends particular circumstances and is relevant in our country today with its so-called Patriot Act that threatens liberty in the name of state security.

Set in East Berlin five years before glasnost, von Donnersmarck and photographer Hagen Bogdanski capture the grey atmosphere of an authoritarian state showing in muted sepia tones its drably furnished apartments, bare offices, and empty streets. As the film begins, Stasi Captain Gerd Wiesler, masterfully performed by Ulrich Muehe, uses videotape to educate recruits about Stasi interrogation methods. In the tape, a man is shown being reduced to tears after fifty hours of relentless questioning, finally breaking down and revealing the identity of his accomplice. Later, during an evening at the theater, Wielser expresses suspicion about the true loyalties of playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) and his girlfriend, the popular stage actress Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck), even though both are known to be loyal to the Socialist state.

At the behest of colleagues, Lt. Colonel Grubitz (Ulrich Tukur), head of the Cultural Department and Bruno Hempf (Thomas Thieme), the Minister of Culture who has his own reasons for ordering the surveillance, Wiesler has Dreyman's apartment wired from top to bottom. As Wiesler, identified only as HGW XX/7, sits in his dark office plugged into his headsets and tape recorder, he observes Dreyman and Christa going about their lives and it is not a comfortable experience for him. The gradual exposure of the expressionless bureaucrat to a different way of life that includes music, literature, and freedom of expression leads him to look at his life in a new way, a way that makes clear the arrogance of his superiors. It is the catalyst for a surprising plot that has numerous twists and turns and ends up as a powerful depiction of what it means to be human.

The Lives of Others succeeds not only by its broad strokes but by its attention to detail. An example is the revealing scene when Wiesler rides in an elevator with a nave young boy clutching his football. When the young boy tells him that his father hates the Stasi, Wiesler begins to ask him the name of his father, then stops in mid sentence, and inserts the word football for father. As Wieslers loyalty becomes shaky and Dreyman mourns the suicide of an old friend, stage director Albert Jerska (Volkmar Kleinert), the story takes on an added dimension, slowly building momentum until it reaches a staggering conclusion that is so moving, yet so understated that tears didnt come until I reached home.


Re: The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) (Germany) (2006)

Postby hengcs » Fri Mar 02, 2007 6:35 am

High recommended.

It is such a great film about humanity, even more so than a thriller ... yup, this genre has been covered often by films from Germany, but there is MORE to it this time ... yes, pple have praised the script, pple have praised the lead actor, pple have praised the music score ... but ...

To me, it was the subtlety of some scenes that were great ... the kid/football, the very second last scene, the last scene, etc ... also, the script was great in bringing out the ironies of lives, the politics/realism in life/work, the "grayness" between black and white in many situations, etc)

Yup, for many audience, the last line in the last scene will come across as one of the best few in years to come ...

PS: For those who are interested, a great interview with the director ... guess what, it is in English ... (a bit of spoilers)

Re: The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) (Germany) (2006)

Postby howardschumann(d) » Fri Mar 02, 2007 7:04 am

Thanks for commenting and thanks for posting the link to that interview. I had heard some things about the director and his ego that weren't too flattering but I was very impressed with the interview. It is a film that is difficult to forget and I think I may see it again next week.

Re: The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) (Germany) (2006)

Postby trevor826 » Mon Apr 16, 2007 10:46 am

This story takes a few well worn themes, the romance threatened by the unwanted intervention of a self-centered powerful figure, the voyeuristic thriller and the awakening of somebody to a wider understanding of the truth.

What makes this film stand out is how these plot devices or contrivances are played out in a totally atypical manner, this and the excellent performances, Ulrich Mhe in particular make this a film well worth seeing.

Any man can truly believe he is doing the right thing, that what he does is for the common good. Gerd Wiesler is such a man, indistinctive, of little imagination and just accepting of the facts surrounding him. The sudden awareness that he is serving a purpose for all the wrong reasons turns him from protector of the state to guardian angel of a playwright and his lover, much to his own personal cost.

The final 20 minutes or so are where the story could have fallen into many of the standard routines so beloved of mainstream cinema but these are skillfully avoided leaving the feeling that you have witnessed something out of the ordinary, indeed something extraordinary.

A thumbs up for a film that delivers.

Cheers Trev.

Re: The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) (Germany) (2006)

Postby hengcs » Mon Apr 16, 2007 7:47 pm


I have recommended this film to many friends ...
Unfortunately, most of them did not catch it ...
Guess "publicity/marketing" still reigns ... sigh

that's life ...

Re: The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) (Germany) (2006)

Postby JPaulie » Sat Jun 02, 2007 10:40 pm

it just came out on big screen here in New-Zealand and Im really looking forward to seeing this one even more now after reading your views, just got to finish my finals first

Re: The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) (Germany) (2006)

Postby hengcs » Thu Jul 26, 2007 6:01 am

Lives of Others actor Muehe dies

So sad ...

Re: The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) (Germany) (2006)

Postby chard09 » Sat Oct 27, 2007 5:17 am

Magnitude 9, Intensity 8 in Florian Henckel von Donnersmarcks The Lives of Others (2006)

Original Title: Das Leben der Anderen
Written and directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Cast: Ulrich Mhe, Martina Gedeck, Sebastian Koch
2006 Oscar Winner for Best Foreign Language Film

A film that defies seismic meters, The Lives of Others feels like an earthquake a sudden release of energy that accumulated through time, the end of all abstinence, a massive cause of displacement that promises its return for indeterminable years. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarcks debut work carries us into disbelief and dementia, a period of wakefulness in dreams, and leaves us nothing to give but admiration. The applause soon before the credits rolled is very much deserved.

Its seriousness is frightening yet it manages to pull off its occasional humor, and at times even its humor is scary. The atmosphere exudes a breath of terror: one can feel the political turmoil, the tumultuous plight of the characters without seeing it. Donnersmarck masters the language of the unseen the words, the music, the plot devices and carefully weaves its story into a thrilling yet rewarding series of events that followed Christa-Marias treachery into a finality that grieves with kindness and reciprocation.

The controversy that surrounds the film prior to its release in Germany the libel suits, the said unrealistic portrait of East Germany, and making the Stasi man into a hero just adds to its vitality. Its emotional texture, as one writer puts it, is layered in such a way that it evokes universality, that these events are not alien to us, to our emotions, and to our sensibilities. In fact when Wiesler enters Dreymans apartment with the State Security team to install surveillance microphones and cameras, I shriek at the idea on how GMA got wiretapped, unknowingly, or if it is even possible for our state-sponsored departments to do that. We might not even need one, as big-time crooks and shameless alligators are doing all their crimes comfortably, without guilt or apprehension, in a state of evil grace. The grimness of a totalitarian government seeps through in every vein of this film: its force to let everyone succumb to its will and its dedication to power are deafening. In a brilliant scene when Dreyman walks out of a stage play and sees the Minister Its a pity that a man like you once ruled a country and in return, he mocks, in a bleak wing of despair, the society that they have been into, in total rejection of the regime and separation, is this what they really want?

Ulrich Mhe deserves every praise he receives for his role as Stasi agent HGW XX/7: his stature, his voice that demands authority when he interrogates Christa about the typewriter that Dreyman used for the suicide article, writing her testimony as if he doesnt know what she is saying, as if his pen has a life of its own and a conviction of a boar, his unblinking eyes filled with remorse, his threatening silence, and when he gets demoted as a mailman we weep in compassion, but as the film ends with a freeze frame of him standing in a bookshop saying that the book need not be giftwrapped because its for him, a sudden train of thought rushes through, while my heart still enjoys its stay in my throat: nothing could be more rewarding than that.

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