Dir: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Script: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Cast: Ulrich Mühe, Martina Gedeck, Sebastian Koch, Ulrich Tukur
1984 East Germany, Keen Stasi agent Gerd Wiesler (Mühe) is assigned to spy on playwright Georg Dreyman (Koch), who is suspected of Western learnings. Monitoring Dreyman and partner Christa-Marie’s (Gedeck) every activity from an attic space above his apartment, Wiesler slowly begins to sympathise with his assignment.
Ulrich Mühe’s rough, passionless features are prominent in all of The Lives of Others promotional imagery, his face a hardened shell ready to crack. Mühe’s performance is just one of many highlights, in a film that has unjustly garnered a reputation as “the one that beat Pan’s Labyrinth at the 2007 Oscars”.
Intricate and consistently inventive, it’s difficult to believe that this is director/writer Donnersmarck’s debut. Playing with the fact that the Berlin Wall’s imminent collapse is appreciated by all but the film’s characters, Donnersmarck draws parallels with numerous historical eras, embellishing a deep script with multiple literary and cinematic references. The Lives of Other’s Stasi may talk of the lasting effect of the communist regime, but despite the film’s crafty setting this is no Orwellian 1984; Wiesler’s sinister superior Anton Grubitz (Ulrich Tukur) and his faith in the system are the narrow-sighted delusions of a man whose time will soon be up.
Sebastian Koch and Martina Gedeck also excel as playwright Goerg Dreyman and girlfriend Christa Marie, both oblivious to the situation they are both in. Dreyman is an interesting character, who supports the regime while disproving of its methods. Gabriel Yared and Stephane Moucha’s score also deserves a mention, matching the film’s delicate transitions from edgy tension to passionate poignancy with ease.
Slow, stark, sterile and laced with a droll irony throughout, The Lives of Others is a long-lasting fix for the intelligent moviegoer. Whether its endnote is enlightening or downright depressing all depends on just how much faith you invest in the enduring power of the arts.