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The Lives of Others

Posted by admin | Posted in Movies | Posted on 06-09-2010


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This critically-acclaimed, Oscar®-winning film (Best Foreign Language Film, 2006) is the erotic, emotionally-charged experience Lisa Schwarzbaum (Entertainment Weekly) calls “a nail-biter of a thriller!” Before the collapse of the Berlin Wall, East Germany’s population was closely monitored by the State Secret Police (Stasi). Only a few citizens above suspicion, like renowned pro-Socialist playwright Georg Dreyman, were permitted to lead private lives. But when a… More >>

The Lives of Others

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Comments (5)

Hopefully, Academy members will rightfully award the Oscar tomorrow night for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year (2006) to ‘The Lives of Others.’ Writer/Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s debut stands head and shoulders not only over the other nominees, but also over all the nominees for Best Picture. That so-called ‘best’ list pales in comparison to the heights attained by von Donnersmarck’s creation. It is a expertly-plotted, richly-told depiction of life under the dominion of the East German spying apparatus, the Stasi.

‘Lives’ tracks the Stasi’s efforts to bug and disrupt the lives of writer Georg Dreyman (a striking Sebastian Koch) and his actress girlfriend Christa-Maria Sieland (the incomparable Martina Gedeck). Assigned to the case is Stasi agent, Gerd Wiesler, indelibly played by Ulrich Mühe. The reasons for spying on Dreyman and ‘CSM’ (as the Stasi calls her)? A Politburo minister has the hots for CSM. That’s it. For that most personal of reasons, lives are ruined. A professional reviewer of ‘Lives’ really hit the nail on the head when he said that the movie turns on the fact that Weisler realizes he is spying into the life of a man who is ‘vastly his moral superior.’ That’s it. You get propelled into Dreyman’s life and you are struck immediately and permanently by his decency and the quality of his character. Over time, Weisler starts injecting himself into the proceedings. At that point, the sequence of events is irrevocably changed.

von Donnersmarck’s movie is a continual series of one great scene after another. I thought perhaps it had reached its denouement with the fall of the Wall. But it keeps getting better. Dreyman requests his Stasi files. He begins to piece together the story and the role of Weisler.

‘The Lives of Others’ is 137 minutes of the best entertainment imaginable. Ulrich Mühe is an East German who himself was the target of Stasi oversight. For this film, he was awarded Best Actor at the 2006 European Film Awards. Is there a more just triumph than that?
Rating: 5 / 5

I often don’t agree with Oscar choices, but this time they got it right.

“The Lives of Others” is one of the most interesting movies about communism that I have seen in a decade; it shows, as few others have, how communism suffocates human imagination…not just stifles political dissent.

A spy – Captain Wiesler – is given the task of eavesdropping on a well known playwright, not for political reasons, but because a communist boss is jealous of the man and wants his female lover for himself. As the spy begins listening in, he begins to question the values of his society and the integrity of his orders.. Up to that point, Wiesler dutifully obeyed without question. But as the spy continues to experience the world of the playwright, he starts to live the subject’s life vicariously…so the enemy ironically becomes the friend. The experience helps Captain Wiesler grow in humanity so he ultimately makes the decision to run interference to save the playwright’s life.

The film details the transformation of an organization man in a hostile society…and makes us remember the great books of totalitarian dangers such as Animal Farm, Anthem, Brave New World, and of course, 1984. (It is no accident that the key YEAR in which the events take place in this film is indeed 1984). Instead of leaving the viewer in a state of deep negativity, “The Lives of Others” gives us reason to hope, reason to believe that goodness may prevail over corruption. So by the end, I was deeply moved.
Rating: 5 / 5

Gerd Weisler (Ulrich Muhe, appropriately drab) is an East German Stasi (Secret Police) drone: the type of man that his superiors count on to “get” his prey. Early on in this fascinating, superior film, Gerd arrives home from a hard day of spying on his fellow East Germans and prepares a meal: microwaved white rice onto which he squeezes tomato paste from a tube. This scene, in its spare, workmanlike manner sets the course and adjusts the sights of this film: the unremarkable, out of hate and jealousy assigned to bring down those deemed different, those deemed remarkable, those deemed talented. Weisler is the perfect Stasi automaton: a socialist monk with ice-cold eyes and an incorruptible true believer’s faith in the system he has sworn to defend against “enemies of socialism” no matter where he finds them.

“The Lives of Others” begins in 1984 a particularly Orwellian date and 5 years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Weisler is invited to a night of theater by his school friend and boss Colonel Grubitz (a slimy bureaucrat performance by Ulrich Tukor) for a performance of a play written by Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) and starring Dreyman’s live in girlfriend, Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck from “Mostly Martha”). Dreyman is tall, handsome, dresses in colors other than grey and Christa-Maria is wondrously gorgeous and a great actress to boot.

As Weisler watches Christa-Maria on stage he also scopes in on Dreyman, via his opera binoculars, watching Christa-Maria with love and admiration. The look of distrust and envy in Wailer’s eyes is frightening: his eyes widen, squint and widen again. What does Weisler see or sense on that triumphant, for Dreyman and Sieland, night? Is it watching them basking in the glory of an audience’s love and appreciation? Is it the palpable love and warmth between the two themselves: something that Weisler has never, will never feel? Whatever it is, Weisler has found his next assignment.

Though Dreyman is deemed “the only writer we have who is not subversive,” Weisler forces the issue and sets up a full Stasi surveillance: bugs, cameras and sets up a roost for himself in the attic of the Dreyman-Sieland home.

Then in the process of spying on these two warm, happy, talented, loving people something happens to Weisler: he slowly, through the ugly process of spying, thaws little by little: Weisler falls in love with them and more to the point.., he falls in love with their lives.

First time director, Florien Hinkle von Donnersmarck has produced a remarkable, involving, intelligent film: an intricate, frightening film full of lives caught at the difficult crossroads of patriotism on the one hand and on the other the vortex of individual duty and honor.

Rating: 5 / 5

What a powerful movie. I felt the oppressiveness of the system from the movie in a way that i haven’t seen since reading Solzhenitsyn’s “The Gulag Archipelago”. I don’t know how anyone survived those decades, let alone how any normal human contact was possible. I wonder even more how anyone in the system like the major character could move from a position of responsibility for interrogations to actively supporting a writer who writes a damning article about suicides in East Germany.

The plot of the movie is actually rather straightforward and linear.

A playwright, a supporter of the regime has a beautiful lover, who is a well known actress.

She is blackmailed into a sexual liaison by a high ranking party member using his threats to end her career or worse.

The official decides to get rid of the playwright-boyfriend using information gained from surveillance by the Stasi on their apartment.

(so far sounds pretty much like David and Bathsheba, she who was the wife of Uriah)

The agent assigned to the case, listens into the lives. While at the same time figures out with his immediate superior that they are being used by the official to further his sexual agenda.

What happens next is that the agent covers up for the playwright’s underground activities by submitting false reports that they are involved only in writing a new play, while they are actually moving towards more active resistance to the government.

But the movie isn’t about the plot, it is about the character development, in all four major players.

the Stasi supervisor, the agent, the playwright and the actress-girlfriend.

And how the system changes, distorts or reinforces each of their beliefs.

The most interesting one is the agent’s movement from a loyal player to a subverter of the system. What are his motivations? are they believable? how far will he go to protect these two people? will he get caught?

it feels like a gripping detective story with lives on the line, with a huge rock ready to drop on anyone of them and poof–into prison.

It is how they adapt to the pressures, how they continue to live with themselves and with their friends that forms the background for the character development.

i love books.

therefore i really liked the ending.

i hope things like this occurred in East Germany, and continue to occur in all those places in the world that are not free to speak their minds and think their own thoughts, in private, and to speak them in public.

thanks to the movie for a thrilling and thought provoking ride.
Rating: 5 / 5

First of all, this is not only one of the best foriegn films I have ever seen, but one of the best films I have seen period! I have nothing to add to the other five star reviews here that hasn’t already been covered.

That said, it pains me to report that this DVD release has a serious flaw and that is the subtitling! Some other reviewers have commented on the poor quality of the translation in the subtitles, which may in fact be true. But even more of a detriment is the fact that if you watch this film on a widescreen TV you will not see ANY subtitles at all! This is because the disk was encoded to display the subtitles in the black dead space area, outside of the letterboxed region where film frames appear. Widescreen TVs don’t display this dead space, they actually fill up the screen with the letterbox frame which means that the subtitles are completely lost! The disk offers no option to display the subtitles properly on a widscreen format television set, i.e. inside the letterbox frame. This is particularly ironic considering that SONY, the distributer of the DVD, is the same company that manufactured widescreen TV on which I discovered the problem! You’d think that they would have had a clue about how to format the subtitles on the DVD to work on all of their television models! If you have a conventional TV set, then you won’t have this problem since it will display the letterbox with the black boundaries intact.

So if you are a widescreen television owner and are fluent in German, then I can heartily recommend this wonderful movie. If not, then make sure you have a conventional set on which to watch this DVD or wait for SONY to fix this embarassing mistake before you make the purchase!
Rating: 3 / 5

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