Sunday 1 April 2007

The Lives of Others (aka Das Leben der Anderen) (2006) - ickleReview (cinema)

Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film with this tale about the Stasi state security in Eastern Germany in 1984. It is so perfectly composed, I don't want to spoil it for you by revealing too much about it.

Sebastian Koch plays the publicly loyal East German playwright, Georg Dreyman, whose beautiful girlfriend, Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck), plays his leading female stage roles. Two Stasi officers, Grubitz (Ulrich Tukur) and Wiesler (the wonderful Ulrich Mühe), suspect Dreyman of insurrection because of the company he keeps with other, more openly anti-state, artists such as the black-listed theatre director Jerska (Volkmar Kleinert). With the permission of the government minister Hempf (Thomas Thieme), who has hinted to Grubitz that he may be favoured for a promotion, the Stasi wiretap Dreyman's apartment in the hope of finding some evidence against him. Wiesler is put in charge of the monitoring operation.

This film is beautifully observed with impeccable production values. The are so many greys, browns and dull greens on the palette, and yet - thanks to doubleplusgood acting and ingenious scripting - von Donnersmarck finds a touching human warmth. Koch gives the writer's life a quiet dignity, a delicate balance between social obedience and free-spiritedness. The communist machinery of state is efficient, yet slowly crumbling from the inside. Mühe rides this divide.

The power games are delicious. The humour unexpected but not out of place. The tears drawn with cathartic poignancy. An unburnished gem of a film.

Nugget: in German with English subtitles. Worthy of your attention. It will reward you richly.

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