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The Lives of Others
Drama, Thriller
IMDB rating:
Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Martina Gedeck as Christa-Maria Sieland
Ulrich Mühe as Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler
Sebastian Koch as Georg Dreyman
Ulrich Tukur as Oberstleutnant Anton Grubitz
Thomas Thieme as Minister Bruno Hempf
Hans-Uwe Bauer as Paul Hauser
Volkmar Kleinert as Albert Jerska
Matthias Brenner as Karl Wallner
Herbert Knaup as Gregor Hessenstein
Bastian Trost as Häftling 227
Marie Gruber as Frau Meineke
Volker Michalowski as Schriftexperte (as Zack Volker Michalowski)
Werner Daehn as Einsatzleiter in Uniform
Storyline: In the early 1980s, Georg Dreyman (a successful dramatist) and his longtime companion Christa-Maria Sieland (a popular actress), were huge intellectual stars in (former) East Germany, although they secretly don't always toe 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.
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Truly gripping.
This movie is definitely one of my favorite German movies ever. I visited the Hohenschönhausen prison in East-Berlin some time ago so the opening sequence of this movie really hit me in the face because I know the place and the things you see in the movie were a reality not so long ago. The actors are brilliant. The script is perfect. The sets are historically correct and give you a good impression of how it felt to live in the DDR. Not really a "feel good"-movie but a message to set the records straight about the DDR-regime and its StaSi-system. Even the difficult parts, like the fact that there are a lot of former DDR-officials who still don't have any regrets about what they did, are not skipped. A true masterpiece.
A smart, tight, well-acted thriller
This movie, though rather long, is well directed such that every frame is important. The musical score of the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra enhances the movie rather than dominating it.

The acting by all cast members is excellent - no one overacts. It all seems terribly real.

The movie's theme causes us to focus on how fragile our freedoms really are. The historical background is East Germany in the early to mid-1980's. The Stassi reigns supreme with the enlisted help of a multitude of informants such that no one can be trusted. One can easily imagine how North Americans have cause to worry if we continually give up our liberties for the sake of combating terrorism.

It is also a movie that speaks to a European culture that is now forced to assimilate the old USSR bloc. We get new sympathy for the hell that the East Germans and for that matter the citizens of other totalitarian regimes had to endure.

Yet, like in Schindler's List, the good in a man's heart ultimately triumphs. The juxtaposition of "good man"/ "bad man" plays heavily throughout the film.

Without any chase scene or over-the-top special effects, the film pulls off what is arguably the best thriller of the year. It is well-deserving of its Academy Award nomination for best foreign language film.
Amazing movie
Set on the 1980s and during the Cold War, "Das Leben der Anderen" tells the story of the world created by the Stasi (the internal army created by the Socialist Party) and the citizens of the GDR living in a world of repression.

The official state police, Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Muhn), is a specialist in interrogation and is assigned the espionage case of a playwright named Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch).

It is for this reason (being a playwright) that he is placed under surveillance. As the investigation progresses, he unknowingly becomes aware of its own existence and limited empathy for those who follow him, taking precedence over their obedience and loyalty to the Stasi - so much so that he begins to fudge documents and lying about the events in the life of Dreyman.

"Das Leben der Anderen" is a low budget ever for a German film but it is exceptionally written capturing the essence of people's feelings at the time.

The photography is wonderful and captures a dark and drab East Germany, with its dull lighting and soft colors, perfectly illustrated the dismay of its citizens. The performances throughout the film are excellent, the best performance however for me is Ulrich Muhn. the film is a great piece of art and entertainment that should be seen by any movie lover.

My Rating - 9/10

(Original Review written May 25, 2013)
Beautifully restrained study of moral complexity and totalitarianism
The Lives of Others/Das Leben der Anderen—the title of this striking German film points to the vicariousness of a world dominated by suspicion and surveillance. In East Germany before the Berlin Wall came down the STASI, the state police, wanted to watch everyone. In 1984 a file is opened and STASI men are set to work watching a man and a woman who are above reproach. In the paranoid world of the eastern zone, innocence itself, as in Kafka, is suspicious. In charge of the case, code name "Laszlo," is a certain Weisler (Ulrich Mühe). And those thoroughly bugged and listened to day and night are Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch), a noted playwright, friend of the Chancellor, politically correct in the eyes of the regime, and his beloved girlfriend Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck), a famous actress. Behind this particular project are political higher-ups, sly and manipulative, jealous of each other's positions, kingpins of a system that in a few years will toss them out. This is a paranoid 1984 not far from the one Orwell imagined. When Weisler's men bug Dreyman's flat, the lady across the hall sees them. Weisler tells her if she speaks a word to anybody, her daughter will be thrown out of the university. One of the officials wants Christa-Maria. Now that she is vulnerable, on the examination table, so to speak, he can move in on her. It's only a matter of time before somebody will be begging for mercy.

Weisler is a rigid mole, but he has sensitive eyes. Like the Wall itself, his vision will crumble and we will see it happen. Weisler is a teacher in the police school, but Dreyman's life becomes his teacher. Dreyman is tall and glamorous. He sheds his middle class origins by never wearing a tie. He makes love to a beautiful woman who Weisler later declares to be a great artist. Weisler has to make do with flabby prostitutes on a tight schedule. Dreyman introduces Weisler to the humanizing value of music and poetry; he listens to a certain sonata, and he begins to read Brecht.

Weisler and Dreyman are both flawed heroes. The bad men are Oberstleutnant Anton Grubitz (Ulrich Tukur), Weisler's threatening supervisor, and the loathsome "Culture" minister with police powers Bruno Hempf (Thomas Tieme).

The question may arise in our minds: if Dreyman's so above reproach to the East Germans, how shall we admire him? But this film deals in nuances, moral ambiguities through which despair can turn to hope. The sonata was given to Dreyman for his birthday by a blacklisted friend and mentor, Albert Jerska (Volkmar Kleimert), and Jerska's suicide leads the playwright to risk smuggling facts and an impassioned protest to the West. Dreyman does become admirable to us. But so does Weisler, the STASI agent, because by this time he wants to protect the objects of his surveillance, and to protect them he arranges to be the only man on the case. Dreyman evades exposure through Weisler's silent help. But there are casualties. Christa-Maris is catnip to the fat cats, and she's caught in the middle. Weisler covers his tracks, but his superior knows he's done something, and Weisler's sent to steam open letters in a cellar for the rest of his career. It's there that we see him get the extraordinary news four years later that the Wall is coming down.

The Lives of Others is free from the melodrama of pursuit and torture, but it knows the terror of the sudden house search, the second knock upon the door; of extortion, humiliation, and betrayal; the soul death of the creative person silenced, the calculated draining away of the will to act. It's a movie of dignity and hope too, though it speaks of long gray subterranean exile. The music Jerska gave Dreyman is called The Sonata of a Good Man. A chance remark by one of the fallen officials years later leads Dreyman to track down the facts (accessible now) and to write about them. When Weisler speaks the film's final lines, "It's for me," they're among the most resonant in recent years. The Lives of Others is a little long in places – it threatens sometimes to morph into a mini-series – but its restraint and quietude make for an impressive cumulative effect, a sense of the prevailing grayness and rage totalitarianism generates. It's specific to the place and time, but gracefully universal, and it reveals the tall German with the aristocratic name, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, to be a world-class director.
Beauty in the darkest of circumstances, is the most beautiful of all.
I can honestly say, this is one of the finest examples of European film. The story is so dark and heart-breaking. In the UK and Northern America, we miss out on so much fabulous cinema because it is not in English, because we are too lazy to read subtitles, or learn a foreign language, but this masterpiece, this work of art, does not disappoint.

It is not a film you enjoy. You will not call it your favourite, discuss it with your friends, or even watch it regularly. You will however be filled with the harrowing knowledge it gives to you. The awful state of affairs in GDR in the 1980s. It will rock your soul. Your very conscience. You will be gripped, unable to look away, and yet desperate to go back to the ignorance of our sheltered lives, after all, isn't it bliss?

The story follows the surveillance of a playwright and his girlfriend in 1985 in Eastern Germany, and how the Captain in charge of the operation becomes intoxicated by their lives, and as such, begins to cover up the very acts he is meant to report. It eventually ends with him preventing the playwright's arrest by hiding the evidence that would have him convicted. The evidence in question a type writer that wrote an article that uncovered the policy in Eastern Germany of no longer recording suicides. The information on where this typewriter was hidden came from the girlfriend of the playwright. She kills herself, overcome by guilt, only for the captain to have already removed the evidence. The ending of the film, several years later sees the Playwright review the files on the surveillance operation on him in a united Germany and he discovers the work of the Captain who had in many ways help conceal the evidence. He finds out who he is and tracks him down. He sees him but he does not approach him. We then see the Captain who is now a postman of some kind walk past a book shop with the playwright's photograph and novel in the window. He goes in and opens a copy to see that is devoted to him. His code name. He buys a copy and the cashier asks him if he'd like it gift- wrapped. He replies: "No, it's for me."

It is the most beautiful ending to a film I have ever seen.
"Sonate vom guten Menschen" also made this reviewer dewy-eyed!
A deserving Oscar winner if ever there was one, though I was never one to pay special attention to the Oscars, I was almost shocked by how perfect this debut movie by a 34-year-old director very nearly was. Set in East Berlin in the mid-80s, some five years before the infamous Wall crumbled, it follows the STASI as they plot to find incriminating evidence against playwright Georg Dreyman, who'd been the regime's darling until a ruthless minister frivolously develops a lecherous desire to possess his girlfriend, renowned stage actress Christa-Maria Sieland. Though both Sebastian Koch (last seen by me as the Nazi Captain Müntze in Verhoeven's Black Book) and Martina Gedeck are excellent as the central couple trapped within the STASI's web of eavesdropping and paranoia tactics, the real hero and star of the movie is without a doubt Ulrich Mühe. I had last seen in Michael Haneke's Funny Games, where he played Georg, the unfortunate husband and dad who comes to a sticky end. In The Lives of Others, Mühe memorably fills the shoes of the STASI agent Gerd Wiesler who listened to Dreyman's daily life through the bugs in his flat. Balding, physically non-descript Wiesler conveys more with one subtle shift of an eyeball than the whole stellar cast of an Oliver Stone movie. This actor is so charismatic, he blows even the undeniably talented and handsome Sebastian Koch clear off the screen. In this movie not only are things seldom what they seem, but humanity and redemption can be found in the most ridiculously unexpected places.

Shocking, humane and moving yet never predictable, heavy-handed or melodramatic, the movie is also blessed by a solid script, a very plausible storyline free of plot holes and an immaculately researched scenario. I've read that both the movie's director and Mühe remember their experiences living in the Communist regime. Though the former was still very young, he claims to clearly remember the climate of paranoia he grew up in, while Mühe later discovered that he had been spied upon by his own wife! Oddly enough, one accusation levelled against the movie by some IMDb reviewers is that of misogyny. Being normally very sensitive to a discriminatory portrayal of women, I was very baffled by this. I've come to the conclusion that some touchy viewers expect their movie characters – especially those of women or ethnic minorities – to be paragons of virtue or role models, rather than simply human beings with flaws and plausible weaknesses. In my view Christa-Maria's main sin was not to be "weak", as some other viewers here claim, but simply "human". If anything, the movie also provided a damning portrait of the brutality of the regime against women.

Perhaps my only, very minor complaint with the movie was its ending, which felt a tad rushed - though it was a beautiful ending all the same - uplifting and sad, poetic and yet also grounded in the starkest reality.
Still brilliant...will be forever...
I highly recommend this trip into old world Germany. It takes you on a ride of intense empathy that few films do. It's brilliantly acted by almost everyone, with some truly memorable performances from both lead and supplemental characters. It's elegantly written by a true artist who realizes he can successfully avoid any manufactured drama and let the setting of his story address those essential cinematic needs. It feels as real as a movie can as a result. This movie will stay with you and make you feel thankful for what you have. My only wish would be a slightly higher pace to the story in the first half of the movie...if only more movies had such few things wrong with it though.
Regular readers of my comments know I go on and on about noir and folding. When I see these narrative techniques used, I often remark that the technique is wasted, because the film has no heft once it has charmed us into investing in it.

Not so here. The thing we get from this is simple, the value of passion in art. We get it viscerally and it matters. The basic device is as usual, commitment to art as a commitment to a lover. We also get the common technique of mapping personal challenge into political challenge because you can "show" it.

The folding here is complex. Our watcher in the story is literally a watcher. We are getting a film written by the filmmaker that features a play and ultimately a book by the main character. The watcher and writer have other watchers, and indeed the woman has other attention concerning performance. We have writing or performing (in life, in sex, piano, play...) at every fold. Its very tight in its construction and effective at what it sets out to do.

Quite apart from that, its timeliness in the US is apt. The subtitles I saw translated the spies as "National Security Agency," which as every American now knows performs very similar surveillance on its citizens, also without controls, and also for political purpose. So it chills.

Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
A great movie about mediocrity, thoroughness, morality and power.
Mediocrity, thoroughness, morality, power. These words come into my mind after seeing this very German movie, which is otherwise also a great movie. It has a great atmosphere, giving back the grey world of the DDR: grey buildings, grey Trabants and Wartburgs, grey people, a country ruled by mediocrity even in its colours.

Nevertheless, a thorough world: the Stasi thoroughly maintains the files about the many suspects, the agents thoroughly install the bugs in their flats and thoroughly watch them. (Later in the unified Germany they thoroughly maintain the very same files and make them open for everyone. A thorough nation, the Germans.)

But the Germans also value morality and this is also evident in the movie. The moral awakening causes the otherwise conformist writer to challenge the Communist power and the very same moral attitude causes the much less typical and much less anticipated awakening of the Stasi agent watching the writer. The latter transformation is clearly more exciting, as the grey, mediocre, thorough and lonely Stasi agent, the loyal servant realizes the real nature of the Communist power during the observation of the writer and her wife. In the end he also challenges this power in his own humble way.

The story should also be instructive for us Hungarians, as it shows an example of how a nation should handle its dark past. The Germans already did a fairly impressive "brainwash" after WWII to reach a catharsis on the sinful Nazi past and they did a similarly impressive moral confrontation in the 90's with their Communist past and the Stasi. I envy them, because we Hungarians have failed in this. The Germans consistently opened all the Stasi files, and allowed everyone to go and see who had been watched and who had been the agents and the informers.

In Hungary, this did not happen. What happened instead was that many of the informers became prominent politicians (other professions exposed to the public like artists, journalists, church officials were/are also heavily "infected") and the files were used to blackmail them, or to get rid of them in a few occasions. Not exactly the right way to purify the society. And the society is indeed far from being purified: they just do not really care if it turns out that some prominent person was an informer back in the Communist era. So, when such files come to the public, the former agent just says some weak excuses ("I was forced into this" and " I always tried to defend the people around me" and "I never wrote anything harmful", etc.) and then everything continues as before.

This was what happened to Oscar-winner film director István Szabó whose story is particularly striking. An article was published in a weekly uncovering the fact that he was an informer back in the early 60's. His personal post-scandal behaviour is a typical example of trying to get away with feeble excuses. The reaction of the society was an example of accepting these cheap excuses without criticism, just because Szabó was an otherwise famous, talented and popular person, a "nice" guy.

And this is a pity: Szabó is one of the few informers who could have stood up and confess his "sins" without losing his authenticity, because Szabó the artist has done the confession. His best films showed how the power can corrupt talented but weak persons, how one can lose one's integrity. He got his Oscar for exploring this very topic in Mephisto, (and he got Oscar nominations for two other similar movies with Brandauer). And then he did confront this issue even more explicitly in Taking sides, too. And he did it in the right way, exposing all the complexity and all the moral issues. So, it is indeed a pity he could not do it in the right way in his personal life. And it is indeed a pity that we Hungarians could not do it the right way. The Germans did.
A masterpiece of story telling
Some really average films get held up as classics nowadays - but here we have a genuine classic.

Everything works together and supports the story, no over indulgent 'David Leanesque' camera shots; no over-the-top performances from any of the actors. Okay, maybe a little sentimental in parts, but by then you are completely sucked in by the performances and the story so it doesn't matter.

I implore all film lovers, who haven't seen this movie to do so immediately and if you don't think it is one of the best films ever made - to quote Ron Burgundy: 'I will fight you and that's no lie!'
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