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  Publicity Stills of "The Lives of Others"
(Courtesy from The Picturehouse)

In German with English Subtitles
Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Cast: Ulrich Mühe, Sebastian Koch, Martina Gedeck, Ulrich Tukur, Thomas Thieme, Volkmar Kleinert
RunTime: 1 hr 50 mins
Released By: The Picturehouse
Rating: M18 (Scenes of Intimacy)

Opening Day: 1 March 2007 (The Picturehouse)


Set in East Germany in the early 1980s, a successful dramatist Georg Dreyman and his longtime companion Christa-Maria Sieland, a popular actress, are big intellectual stars in the socialist state, although they secretly don't always think loyal to 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...

Movie Review:

When we thought we had seen the last of movies like Goodbye Lenin, which tell tales about living in the former German Democratic Republic, we received another, hot from the oven. You can't help but notice that many of the best German films in recent times have been based on World War II or the former East Germany. But this doesn't mean that they are void of ideas, as The Lives of Others has taken a route that is far darker, yet intentionally bittersweet.

To those who think that Germans are a bunch of boring people with no humour, you are in for a rude shock. I could almost put this movie into the genre of dramedy, as I kept chuckling to myself at each jolt of one-liners delivered with deadpan expression. We have got to admire the director and scriptwriter, Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck, for weaving in such wonderful dialogue in each and every scene. They were poetic, funny or sardonic with a hint of detachment or humanistic spirit, depending on who was saying those words – The East German secret service known as Stasi or the actors and playwrights who are allowed to enjoy a pretty bohemian lifestyle, as long as they swore allegiance to the ruling government.

Ulrich Muhe is the heart and soul of this film, as he competently displays such emotional excitement and grief as Captain Gerd Wiesler, expert Stasi interrogator and eternal loner with no social life, without even lifting a gun or chasing someone down a few blocks. It surely left me wondering how many actors could have possibly done this rather permanently seated role with such conviction. He has taken on a new task of personally spying on the only East German playwright, whose works are still widely read in the west, as there remains a certain suspicion about his commitment to the socialist cause.

Georg Dreyman(Sebastian Koch) and Christa Maria Sieland(Martina Gedeck) on whom Wiesler spies on secretly from their apartment building's attic with the aid of planted bugs, are the perfect art couple. A talented playwright with fervent support for the socialist government, and his beautiful actress companion, who is the darling of theatre circles. But as his voyeuristic hours intrude on their lives, Wiesler finds himself questioning his own belief in socialism and discovers that the Minister of Culture, Bruno Hempf's(Thomas Thieme) motives in ordering the systematic bugging of Dreyman's house were not political.

The plot is quite heavy stuff with Berlin Wall references but it is done in a subtle manner, without wandering too far off the lives of the characters. The soundtrack of this movie is soothingly sad and superb; having been composed by Oscar winning Gabriel Yared. It leaves us with a dry throat, as the movie races towards an end filled with shock, pain, tears, redemption and one last one-liner which makes you wonder whether to laugh or cry. It is quite a delight when you see a debutant feature film director make a movie with such depth as The Lives of Others.

Movie Rating:

(A stupendous film which deserves the Oscar nomination it has garnered for Best Foreign Film)

Review by Sargunan Ilangovan

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