The Lives of Others (2006)


Das Leben der Anderen


Germany; Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck


Parental Guidance - Sexuality; Brief Bloody Violence




German Democratic Republic, 1984; playwright Georg Dreyman ( Sebastian Koch) and his longtime companion, actress Christa-Maria Sieland, are colossal intellectual stars, known for their loyalty towards the ruling Party. But as Maria becomes the focus of the Minister of Culture’s lascivious attentions, Dreyman turns into a persona non grata among the officials. Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe), a frigid Stasi officer, is charged with the following and wiretapping of the unwitting, happy couple. A gritty, merciless professional, Wiesler sets out to unearth Dreyman’s secrets, only too aware that such an intelligent man can’t be just a submissive, obedient drone. Cloistered in an attic, Wiesler slowly awakens to art, love, new horizons of happiness… But little does he know he has set in motion a doomsday machine that will spare no-one.


Shades of Milan Kundera drift along this powerful, yet quiet evocation of an era that still confounds, fascinates and repulses us. Few countries have come to reach a nationwide agreement on how to deal with this mammoth chunk of history, and it seems unlikely that politicians will eventually disentangle this bundle of contradictions. Artists did, with a lucidity tinged with flickers of irony and hope.


Kundera’s magnum opus The Unbearable Lightness of Being grasped not only the essence of a political and social system, but also the kernel of a certain subconscious spirituality, a vital élan that drives our lives: Kundera called it weight, as opposed to lightness. It is the weight of the moral urgency of our actions that make us humans. The Lives of Others is built on the same clash between the lightness of a tranquil life, or of a solid routine, and the urge to act, to groan and scream in pain under the burden of our humanity. Both Wiesler and Dreyman find their placid existences thrown into disarray by an indomitable moral urgency, but it is Wielser’s which rings with more dread, heft and supressed anger. The film charts superbly this silent, devastating battle, and captures the belated flowering of his tight-lipped, desperate antihero in all its fragility, rarity and beauty.


Donnersmarck is in absolute control of his film and script. He knows how to channel the incredible raw puissance of the enterprise without spilling out into some kind of artistic trance – which is so rare, especially nowadays. The Lives of Others is a film of a staggering maturity, sober, intelligent, quiet, never reveling in the agonizing acuteness and extremity of the choices its characters face. For a 33-year-old director to direct such an articulate, eloquent masterwork, it takes more than just genius – which Donnersmarck manifestly has. It also takes iron-clad discipline and impressive willpower.


This is a humane, rich and utterly riveting endeavor throughout: a multi-layered, haunting motion picture that can stand proudly alongside cinema's best pieces in the pantheon of great movies. It soars effortlessly to heights of staggering intensity and immediacy, but remains articulate and painfully lucid even as it reaches a dire, shattering climax. A masterpiece in every respect, and respect is the due word.



Lives of others   Thelivesofothers couplefromabove

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