The Lives of Others

2008-01-10 16:44
What it's about:
Captain Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Muhe) exemplifies the by-the-rules approach to his job and has unwavering faith in his country's uncompromising socialist system – until he is assigned to monitor controversial playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastion Koch) and his lover Martina (Christa-Maria Sieland) for reasons beyond the welfare of the state. As he compares his own lonely existence to the rich life lead by Dreyman, he begins to doubt everything he stands for.

What we thought of it:
Since the end of the cold war, depictions of life behind the Berlin wall have dropped out of fashion, and it is usually the only occasional scenes in historical films like The Good Shepherd that bring the once-fascinating danger zone to the screen again. The Lives of Others not only succeeds in opening up the cold war era East German experience for viewers as never before, but it also blows away most competing dramas and thrillers.

Captain Wiesler takes pride in his job, viewing himself as the shield between the forces of capitalism, and the socialist ideals that he holds so dear. Although he is not a cruel person, he has no problem in using strong arm tactics in his work. The trade off for this power is a terrible one, and there is a heartbreaking scene in which he tries to make a connection with actress Martina, but cannot give his name, or reveal anything about himself.

Muhe portrays ruthlessness and vulnerability simultaneously. His journey from a lonely man hiding behind his badge, to one born into a world of compassion and emotion is moving without a hint of sentimentality. The rest of the cast also bring their characters to life, while we survey both Wieseler and his targets.

For a film with very little action, The Lives of Others is extremely gripping, rivaling the best thrillers around, and is perhaps even more engaging due to the strength of its moving story and excellent acting. It is no surprise that it scooped the 2006 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, as well as 42 other awards at film festivals around the world. I challenge you watch this film and not get sucked in, no matter where your tastes lie. This is as close to flawless as it gets.

- Ivan Sadler
A patriotic East German secret police captain maintains a constant watch over a playwright and his love, and begins to be drawn into their lives, while realising he is merely a pawn being used for the personal gain of his superiors.

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