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THE LIVES OF OTHERS

Director: FLORIAN HENCKEL VON DONNERMARCK

GERMANY| 2006. SUBTITLED. COLOUR. ANAMORPHIC. DOLBY DIGITAL STEREO. 137 MIN.


Six years in the making, this astonishingly accomplished first feature won the 2007 Oscar for Best Foreign-Language Film. Eschewing the comic nostalgia of ‘Goodbye, Lenin!’, it paints a far darker picture of East Germany’s ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

In 1984, the communist party controls its citizens through ubiquitous surveillance: 100,000 secret police and a vast network of informers maintain a constant vigil against lapses of ‘socialist’ doctrine. Among these is the loyal but limited Capt. Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Muhe), whose opportunistic boss, Lt. Col. Grubitz (Ulrich Tukur), orders him to observe and record the day-to-day life of the state’s most famous playwright, Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch), whose leading lady, Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck from ‘Atomised’), is also his live-in lover. But as Wiesler learns more about this idealistic writer, and falls under the erotic spell of Christa-Maria, he starts to question the value of his work and the motives of his superiors. His doubts are magnified when he learns that the real reason for the operation: the venal minister Bruno Hempf needs the playwright out of the way so that he can pursue an exploitative sexual affair with the compromised Christa-Maria.

It is difficult to convey the complex, layered ironies and piercing insight which von Donnersmarck screenplay manages to achieve. Or to do full justice to the subtle details with which the exceptional cast flesh out the characters’ contradictory behaviour and human frailties. Suffice it to say that you won’t see a more thought-provoking or humane film this year.—Nigel Floyd.

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