The Lives Of Others (Das Leben Der Anderen) (15)



Drama (2006)
138mins Ger

Starring: Ulrich Muhe, Sebastian Koch, Martina Gedeck, Ulrich Tukur
Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Writer(s): Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Listings: London | Rest of UK and Ireland

Acclaimed playwright Georg Dreyman lives in the divided city of Berlin during the mid-'80s with his actress girlfriend Christa-Maria. Suspected of activities contrary to the ways of East German Communism, Georg is placed under covert surveillance and Stasi officer Captain Gerd Wiesler is given the task of spying on the playwright, making detailed notes about every conversation. As the days pass, Gerd begins to sympathise with Georg and the officer interferes in his target's life to keep him safe from harm.

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Won Best Foreign Language Film at The 79th Academy Awards® (25th February 2007)

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Read Peter Clee's Review
Read Kim Hu's Review

LondonNet Film Review by Peter D. Clee

The Lives Of Others (Das Leben Der Anderen)

Florian Henckel's Oscar winning directorial debut is a taut thriller detailing the trauma of the watcher and the watched during the twilight days of communist East Germany (Deutsche Demokratik Republik - D.D.R.) in the mid-Eighties...

Christa-Maria Sleland (Martina Gedeck) and Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) in The Lives Of Others. LionsgateCaptain Wiesler (Ulrich Muhe), a secret police officer of the Stasi (D.D.R. intelligence service), is seconded by his boss, Minister of Culture Bruno Hempf (Thomas Thieme), to spy on writer Georg Dreyman (Sebastien Koch), ostensibly due to his links to dissidents. In reality the snooping owes more to Hempf's relationship with Dreyman's actress lover Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Sieland) than the interests of the socialist state. Wiesler's characteristically professional surveillance unravels as the observer becomes seduced by the beauty and truth of the observed.

What follows is the portrayal of the struggle between 'free-thinking' writers such as Dreyman and his cohorts – seeking to sneak out to the west an article concerning unreported suicides in the D.D.R – and the power of the centralised state apparatus personified by Wiesler and Hempf.

As a thriller this film is a huge success and an absolute-must-watch. Unfortunately for a project that seeks to get under the skin of the D.D.R., it fails on several levels.

Following on from the success of the hilarious and well-observed Goodbye Lenin by Wolfgang Becker, Henckel says he was determined to depict a more serious side of the pains of the East German administration. A worthwhile mission you might think, but in taking such a polarised starting point Henckel falls into the trap of the very truth distortion he so patently despises. As a resident of Berlin during the time depicted in this film, I can assure you that life in the East was not so grim as writer and director Henckel portrays.

One example of this manipulation of events is Henckel's decision to film during the 'dull and dreary months of October to December'. He told me that he deliberately wanted to avoid the romance of the snow strewn streets of January through February, the hope laden times of spring and the natural beauty of a Berlin summer. Well, it's his film and it's his call, but showing the city in its least flattering moments is hardly a fair portrayal of a divided city where life's everyday happiness lived in equal measure with state orchestrated control.

Henckel seems to revel in the downfall of the ‘other Germany'. And well he might. As an aristocrat – full name Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck – he would have seen much to fear, even as an eleven year old at the time, living adjacent to the ‘worker's paradise'. Indeed he trades off his aristocratic heritage, freely using the lordy-like ‘von Donnersmarck' in film publicity. No self-respecting Berliner I knew with the 'von' nomenclature would have deigned to use it for financial or social gain – particularly in the arts.

That said, Muhe – himself successfully sued by his ex-wife for comments he made of her Stasi involvement following the film's release - is sensational as the troubled intelligence officer Wiesler. The rest of the cast perform admirably in their roles too, while the plot weaves some cunning turns into its over-length two-and-a-half hour run. But as a purportedly well-observed portrayal of life in the Soviet sector this film falls far short of any measure of historical accuracy.

Instead it crystallises the sense of West German (Wessie) triumphalism that followed the fall of the Wall. While this may be nectar to the bees of the American liberals and neo-cons in equal measure – hence the Oscar – to many Berliners and sympathetic guests such as myself it smacks of little more than rank privileged self-interest, which is a tragedy considering the otherwise strong cinematic quality that is so almost achieved.

- Peter D. Clee

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LondonNet Film Review by Kim Hu

The Lives Of Others (Das Leben Der Anderen)

Florian Henckel von Donnermarck's atmospheric and brilliantly directed thriller deservedly won this year's Academy Award as Best Film In A Foreign Language...

Captain Wiesler (Ulrich Muhe) in The Lives Of Others. LionsgateThe Lives Of Others (Das Leben Der Anderen) paints a richly detailed portrait of the German capital in the years when a wall divided neighbours and dictated political affiliations. Initially, we are horrified by the callous behaviour of some of the main protagonists. However, through von Donnermarck's lean and beautifully structured screenplay, we grow to understand the motives of these people and even sympathise with them as they battle for the hearts and minds of a nation.

Acclaimed playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) lives in Berlin during the mid-'80s with his actress girlfriend Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck). The faintest whiff of dissent towards the ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED) is punishable by torture at the hands of the Stasi, so Dreyman keeps his true feelings well hidden. Suspected of activities contrary to the ways of East German Communism, Georg is placed under covert surveillance, and Stasi officer Captain Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Muhe) is handed the task of spying on the playwright.

Gerd seems like the perfect candidate for the task: cold, efficient and meticulous, he is emotionally detached from everyone around him. At first, he approaches the task at hand with his usual fastidiousness, making detailed notes about every conversation no matter how mundane, based on the sound recordings, like a late-night party after which Gerd surmises that Georg and Christa-Maria "presumably have intercourse". As the days pass with Gerd sitting alone for hours on end, listening intently though his headphones, the officer begins to sympathise with his subjects. Gerd finds his allegiances dangerously torn. He amends transcripts, replacing Georg's inflammatory conversations with inane chitchat. When Gerd's superiors green light a raid on the playwright's flat, which Gerd knows to contain incriminating articles, the Stasi officer must decide whether to intervene and destroy evidence, or to reveal the full extent of his own deception.

The Lives Of Others operates beautifully as both an edge of seat thriller and a compelling account of a nation in the throes of social and political upheaval. Muhe's heart-breaking performance as a loner wrestling with conflicted loyalties, flirting with notions that contradict everything he has grown up believing, contrasts with Koch's moving turn as the artistic trailblazer, blissfully unaware of his perilous situation. The 138-minute running time passes quickly, with writer-director von Donnermarck in complete control of the elegantly crafted material. He cranks up the tension with assurance for the white-knuckle denouement that has us holding our breath, utterly spellbound. A cute coda, set many years later, brings all of the intrigue and deception to a poignant and fitting close.

- Kim Hu

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