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Drama, Thriller
IMDB rating:
Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Martina Gedeck as Christa-Maria Sieland
Ulrich Mühe as Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler
Sebastian Koch as Georg Dreyman
Ulrich Tukur as Oberstleutnant Anton Grubitz
Thomas Thieme as Minister Bruno Hempf
Hans-Uwe Bauer as Paul Hauser
Volkmar Kleinert as Albert Jerska
Matthias Brenner as Karl Wallner
Herbert Knaup as Gregor Hessenstein
Bastian Trost as Häftling 227
Marie Gruber as Frau Meineke
Volker Michalowski as Schriftexperte (as Zack Volker Michalowski)
Werner Daehn as Einsatzleiter in Uniform
Storyline: In the early 1980s, Georg Dreyman (a successful dramatist) and his longtime companion Christa-Maria Sieland (a popular actress), were huge intellectual stars in (former) East Germany, although they secretly don't always toe the party line. One day, the Minister of Culture becomes interested in Christa, so the secret service agent Wiesler is instructed to observe and sound out the couple, but their life fascinates him more and more.
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Beautifully restrained study of moral complexity and totalitarianism
The Lives of Others/Das Leben der Anderen—the title of this striking German film points to the vicariousness of a world dominated by suspicion and surveillance. In East Germany before the Berlin Wall came down the STASI, the state police, wanted to watch everyone. In 1984 a file is opened and STASI men are set to work watching a man and a woman who are above reproach. In the paranoid world of the eastern zone, innocence itself, as in Kafka, is suspicious. In charge of the case, code name "Laszlo," is a certain Weisler (Ulrich Mühe). And those thoroughly bugged and listened to day and night are Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch), a noted playwright, friend of the Chancellor, politically correct in the eyes of the regime, and his beloved girlfriend Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck), a famous actress. Behind this particular project are political higher-ups, sly and manipulative, jealous of each other's positions, kingpins of a system that in a few years will toss them out. This is a paranoid 1984 not far from the one Orwell imagined. When Weisler's men bug Dreyman's flat, the lady across the hall sees them. Weisler tells her if she speaks a word to anybody, her daughter will be thrown out of the university. One of the officials wants Christa-Maria. Now that she is vulnerable, on the examination table, so to speak, he can move in on her. It's only a matter of time before somebody will be begging for mercy.

Weisler is a rigid mole, but he has sensitive eyes. Like the Wall itself, his vision will crumble and we will see it happen. Weisler is a teacher in the police school, but Dreyman's life becomes his teacher. Dreyman is tall and glamorous. He sheds his middle class origins by never wearing a tie. He makes love to a beautiful woman who Weisler later declares to be a great artist. Weisler has to make do with flabby prostitutes on a tight schedule. Dreyman introduces Weisler to the humanizing value of music and poetry; he listens to a certain sonata, and he begins to read Brecht.

Weisler and Dreyman are both flawed heroes. The bad men are Oberstleutnant Anton Grubitz (Ulrich Tukur), Weisler's threatening supervisor, and the loathsome "Culture" minister with police powers Bruno Hempf (Thomas Tieme).

The question may arise in our minds: if Dreyman's so above reproach to the East Germans, how shall we admire him? But this film deals in nuances, moral ambiguities through which despair can turn to hope. The sonata was given to Dreyman for his birthday by a blacklisted friend and mentor, Albert Jerska (Volkmar Kleimert), and Jerska's suicide leads the playwright to risk smuggling facts and an impassioned protest to the West. Dreyman does become admirable to us. But so does Weisler, the STASI agent, because by this time he wants to protect the objects of his surveillance, and to protect them he arranges to be the only man on the case. Dreyman evades exposure through Weisler's silent help. But there are casualties. Christa-Maris is catnip to the fat cats, and she's caught in the middle. Weisler covers his tracks, but his superior knows he's done something, and Weisler's sent to steam open letters in a cellar for the rest of his career. It's there that we see him get the extraordinary news four years later that the Wall is coming down.

The Lives of Others is free from the melodrama of pursuit and torture, but it knows the terror of the sudden house search, the second knock upon the door; of extortion, humiliation, and betrayal; the soul death of the creative person silenced, the calculated draining away of the will to act. It's a movie of dignity and hope too, though it speaks of long gray subterranean exile. The music Jerska gave Dreyman is called The Sonata of a Good Man. A chance remark by one of the fallen officials years later leads Dreyman to track down the facts (accessible now) and to write about them. When Weisler speaks the film's final lines, "It's for me," they're among the most resonant in recent years. The Lives of Others is a little long in places – it threatens sometimes to morph into a mini-series – but its restraint and quietude make for an impressive cumulative effect, a sense of the prevailing grayness and rage totalitarianism generates. It's specific to the place and time, but gracefully universal, and it reveals the tall German with the aristocratic name, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, to be a world-class director.
Sonata for a Good Man indeed!
This is one of the best films I've seen recently. I won't add a summary; many have done a better job of this than I could. However, what I do want to add is that what makes this such a great film is not simply that it is a political film. If you enjoy a surprising love story, subtle and realistic character development, and an outstanding film score, see this film. You might learn something about East Germany in the process, but that's not the entire point of the film. At its heart, this is a film about people and its themes transcend the time period.

************SPOILER ALERT********One of my favorite parts of the film is the way that Wiesler, the Stasi agent, reveals very slowly how he is affected by his observation of "Lazlo" and "CMS." He becomes more and more involved in their love affair, which emphasizes his own lonely life. Clumsy attempts at human closeness are made: with a prostitute, then with a child, until he finally begins to contact the subjects themselves. At first this contact is electronic, by rigging a doorbell buzzer to ring at a crucial point. He then talks directly with Christa, showing complete understanding of her needs, while also understanding exactly how far he can go. Where he goes next is for you to see, but he sacrifices his own career to become a "good man." *****************END OF SPOILER***********************
Intelligent and moving dealing with GDR history
East Berlin, November 1984. Five years before its downfall the GDR seeks to maintain its power with the help of a merciless system of control and observation. When Oberstleutnant Anton Grubitz puts loyal Stasi-Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler on to the famous writer Georg Dreymann and his girlfriend Christa Maria Sieland who is a famous actress herself, he expects career advancement for himself. For most important politicians are responsible for this "operative act".

What Wiesler did not expect: the intimate view on the world of the ones he's observing changes the snitch as well. Looking at "the life of the others" makes him aware of the beggarliness in his own life and enables access to a so far unknown world of love, free thinking and speaking he is hardly able to elude. But the system can't be stopped anymore and a dangerous game, which destroys the love of Christa Maria Sieland and Georg Dreymann and Wieslers present existence begins.

Until the fall of the wall each of them has paid a big price. After that a whole new world begins.

My personal opinion - though it doesn't count that much - is that this one a an absolute Must See. I can hardly remember such an intelligent and moving German movie especially not including the whole topic of GDR history and the dealing with it. I think this is the first German movie which shows this system as it used to be (which has been confirmed by several contemporary witnesses) and not turns it and its people into comedy though there have been several good ones, of course.
Can you dance as if there's no-one watching?
Maybe you know the saying, "Dance as if no-one were watching, sing as if no-one were listening"? I wonder why we say that? Is there something magical about privacy? Something that lets the spirit free? Our story starts before the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Stasi, East Germany's Secret Police, has refined its way of dealing with artists. No violence. Psychology. Persuasion. Surveillance. The lives of others are not their own. Most artists give up. Many commit suicide. Your best friend. Your lover. Georg Dreyman is lucky. He survives.

The Lives of Others spans seven years - from 1984 to 1991. The first hour sets the scene so we are completely immersed in Communist Germany. Then Dreyman and his partner confront the fact that their lives are being compromised. The emotional intensity is in gut-wrenching contrast to the bland story so far. Finally, as the Stasi surveillance kicks in, they wonder if they can survive - or even if they want to.

One of the film's strengths and weaknesses is that the characters are so believable. Dreyman is a sophisticated intellectual, a successful playwright. His partner, Christa-Maria, is an acclaimed actress. Then there's Stasi agent Gerd Wiesler, a heart-felt supporter of the communism, who is assigned to spy on them. Wiesler has a crisis of conscience and decides not to prosecute Dreyman. The Lives of Others has created debate and furore in Germany. Firstly, because the ex-Stasi now try to portray the regime as none too harmful. Secondly, because the facts show that, with the system of double-checks that were in place, no such character as Wiesler existed or could have existed. The film's director says it is about the ability of human beings to do the right thing, no matter how far they have gone down the wrong path. It seems like a good story (as long as we don't re-write history in the process).

As I came out of a packed multiplex auditorium, I marvelled. People turning out in such numbers to see a subtitled movie. And so they should. But, its Oscar win (Best Foreign Language) apart, The Lives of Others is particularly poignant to British audiences. A poll published at the end of 2006 indicated almost 80% of us agree that Britain has become a 'surveillance society'.

This is why The Lives of Others strikes such a chord. Thousands of new offences, limitations on freedom of assembly, on privacy, freedom of movement, the right to silence, and freedom of speech. Privacy International ranks the UK ahead of the US, Europe and most developing countries, as a 'world worst offender' for surveillance, and as 'an endemic surveillance society' (in the same category as Russia and China). We are by far the most-watched nation on earth, with a CCTV camera for every 14 people. Apart from such corrosive effects of surveillance (notably, in our film, on artists), new technology (including DNA and tracking of non-suspects) raises nightmarish possibilities of abuse. When disaster hits Dreyman's life, it is because a high-up official is abusing the system. Dreyman and Christa-Maria's lives are shattered, and he becomes determined to help expose the disease in their society.

As I catch the bus home from the cinema (watched by more CCTV), I read a newspaper report of an Aberdeen University study finding tough government policies aimed at curbing Islamic radicalism are having the opposite effect. Since 9/11, Britain has eroded the principles it claims to be defending, and people fear (with some justification) that the Government's 'bottom-up accountability' is a blueprint for a 21st century version of a police state. A vicious circle? The Stasi had many more times the secret police that Nazi Germany had - but under a politer system. And modern technology even does away with the need for so many human operatives. The Lives of Others does not feature Gestapo tactics (and the Gestapo only had 30,000 secret police, against the Stasi's 200,000). This is the 1980s, and the Stasi are modern-looking officials, not hit-men. Most of them have been convinced that their work is for the public good.

Dreyman is criticised for minor offences - possessing Western newspapers. It gives them a polite excuse to keep tabs. One perhaps thinks of the UK DNA database (the world's largest) that samples those who have committed very minor offences - or no offence at all. The official reason for diversifying surveillance on Dreyman is, "lack of suspicious acts." Our fictitious 'good man' in this multifaceted masterwork, (and to whom Dreyman eventually dedicates a novel) is in some aspects played by Ulrich Muhe. In a strange irony, Muhe has examined his own Stasi files - from the days when he was an actor in East Germany. He found his former wife had informed on him through the six years of their marriage. For Muhe, the Brechtian self-awareness that is referenced (but never directly used) in the film gives it a meaning beyond mere entertainment. The movie's style is mainstream - as if 'no-one was watching'. We just identify with what is happening on screen. But then we think about our own lives. Whether it is "the grey men who ensure safety in our land" or the emotional ties, and how far would you go to protect a loved one, or how far someone could go to mess with your head.

Watch and listen carefully: the Lives of Others is a film that can cut deep.
A unique movie
If you're going to see one foreign-languaged movie this year, make it this one. Better yet, if you're going to see one movie this year, make it this one. Every aspect of this movie is just outstanding. The music is hauntingly beautiful, the cinematography is excellent, and even though I don't understand much German, the writing seemed excellent as well. It's all crafted together to a level of perfection that you rarely see. You really feel like you are in East Berlin as you watch this one.

What makes this movie unique is that you don't just get a truly great story. You also get great insight to the DDR. You get to see many different sides of the republic, witnessing many different fates.

PS: I don't really know why I gave this movie a 9 instead of a 10. You know what, consider my rating a 10.
Truth is stranger than fiction
Can you imagine a world where people are continuously spied on, where the police set up surveillance equipment in the attics, where even typewriters are registered and, in spite of this,a world accepting of refugees? I am not talking about science fiction. I am talking about real life, the real events that took place in East Germany before the Fall of the Wall.While I was watching 'The lives of others'I couldn't help comparing it to another film, 'Good Bye, Lenin'; both are widely applauded approaches to the recent history of East Germany. But I think one of them is definitely superior to the other; read on if you'd like to know which.Both films are German and were released more or less at the same time -around 2005- and they share factual accuracy and the atmosphere of that historical period, although the first one takes place mainly in the years before the Fall of the Wall and the second, in the years immediately after. Both films have a lot in common, such as an appealing theme, plausible dialogues, lots of moving scenes and convincing acting. In spite of sharing a common theme, they have different approaches, since 'The lives of others' shows the story of a playwright who is being spied on by 'the Party'. What is a cold relationship at the beginning of the story turns into sympathy, what seems love turns into treason, what should have been informing on somebody turns into respect and admiration. On the other hand, 'Good bye, Lenin!'is very innovative mainly because it has a large dose of comedy, which is remarkably powerful. When his mother suffers a heart attack and awakes from a coma seriously weakened, Alex, the main character has to pretend that nothing has changed, that East Berlin is the same as it was before the Fall of the Wall, because a great shock like that could cause her death, so there he goes doing the impossible to keep the 'status quo'. This situation leads to entertaining scenes and appealing dialogue. In addition, both films were recorded on set and on location -we can enjoy watching what Karl Marx Allee looked like almost thirty years ago.However, although both films portray our recent history very convincingly, I strongly recommend 'Good bye, Lenin!'because it is funny, moving and grabs your attention from the very first moment. And it can also make you think!
Still brilliant...will be forever...
I highly recommend this trip into old world Germany. It takes you on a ride of intense empathy that few films do. It's brilliantly acted by almost everyone, with some truly memorable performances from both lead and supplemental characters. It's elegantly written by a true artist who realizes he can successfully avoid any manufactured drama and let the setting of his story address those essential cinematic needs. It feels as real as a movie can as a result. This movie will stay with you and make you feel thankful for what you have. My only wish would be a slightly higher pace to the story in the first half of the movie...if only more movies had such few things wrong with it though.
A German movie you will never forget
This is a very intense German triller. Exceptionally well made, not what I expected and as the movie progressed you fine yourself re-evaluating the characters.. Nothing negative to write about this movie, a simply script well acted. I only wish more movies were made like this, for 2 million dollars they made a masterpiece of cinema. Watch it. Florian Henckel-Donnersmarck's direction with its twists and turns kept the audience glued to the screen. Because of the film's popularity,And even though the movie has very tough moments it is all so well done and presented with such a good taste that in the end you feel some sort of relieved.
Lives of Others........ don't miss this one!!
I am not going to repeat what everyone else has already said as I agree with most of the comments. I have just seen it at the Toronto Film Festival and out of 24 movies I saw.... it far exceeded anything else I saw in the 9 days and can only say it was my #1 favourite. I feel fortunate that I live in such a multicultural city that we have this fantastic festival to see films such as this.

I regret that I had to miss the Questions and Answers at the end of film as I had another film to get to. I would love to hear what was discussed if anyone else was there and would like to get back to me or post on board. PLEASE AND THANK YOU... sh
Regular readers of my comments know I go on and on about noir and folding. When I see these narrative techniques used, I often remark that the technique is wasted, because the film has no heft once it has charmed us into investing in it.

Not so here. The thing we get from this is simple, the value of passion in art. We get it viscerally and it matters. The basic device is as usual, commitment to art as a commitment to a lover. We also get the common technique of mapping personal challenge into political challenge because you can "show" it.

The folding here is complex. Our watcher in the story is literally a watcher. We are getting a film written by the filmmaker that features a play and ultimately a book by the main character. The watcher and writer have other watchers, and indeed the woman has other attention concerning performance. We have writing or performing (in life, in sex, piano, play...) at every fold. Its very tight in its construction and effective at what it sets out to do.

Quite apart from that, its timeliness in the US is apt. The subtitles I saw translated the spies as "National Security Agency," which as every American now knows performs very similar surveillance on its citizens, also without controls, and also for political purpose. So it chills.

Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
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