"The lives of others" (= Das leben der anderen") is a wonderful film directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, that won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film. Truth to be told, I hadn't heard his name before, but I am certain that I will not forget it now. This film, his debut as a director, is simply exceptional. An engaging political thriller, this movie is at the same time a complex study regarding the power of choices, and the way we behave when faced to our worst fears.
The story is set in East Germany in 1984, when the lack of freedom and the zeal of the Secret Police (Stasi) were pervasive. Captain Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe) is an agent that specializes in discovering "traitors", that is, those that don't agree with everything that the government says. Wiesler is very good at his job, and has no mercy for those that don't add up to his ideal of what a good socialist should be.
That is probably the reason why his superior assigns him the task of of spying on Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch), a well-known socialist playwright that is nonetheless suspicious, due to his friends. Dreyman lives with his girlfriend, Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck), a talented actress that loves him but has sexual trysts with a powerful government official that promises her that she will never be in the black list of artist that cannot work.
As Wiesler learns more about the couple, thanks to the hidden microphones his team installed in their apartment, he starts warming towards them. He even protects them when Dreyman becomes actively involved in "subversive" activities, as a reaction to the suicide of a friend that had been blacklisted. But how far will Wiesler risk himself? And can human beings really change?
Strangely enough, "The lives of others" tackles those difficult questions in a manner that leaves nothing to be desired, and makes you think almost involuntarily about many more that have to do with them. On the whole, I must say that I cannot recommend this film strongly enough. Please don't miss it...
Belen Alcat, May 2007