The Lives of Others (2006)


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Rating: The Good – 87.3
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Duration: 137 mins
Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Stars: Ulrich Mühe, Martina Gedeck, Sebastian Koch

The simple brilliance of cinema is a rare experience and one that is generally realised primarily through the mutual inspiration of the various artists involved in a particular piece of work. The Lives of Others is a case in point as writing, acting, directing, score composition, production design, and nearly every other feature of the production come together in seamless unison resulting in a deeply moving story.

Everything is best analysed in contrast and so the repressive environment of 1980’s East Germany provides the perfect context in which to explore the subject of humanity. The story focuses on the actions of two romantically involved artists and the Stasi operative, Wiesler, assigned to monitor them, ostensibly for subversive activities but, in reality, because the woman is coveted by a lecherous minister who wants the man out of the way. As Wiesler’s superiors place increasing pressure on him to produce results, the once dedicated professional begins to see the ugliness of his duties (and of his state’s regime) reflected most powerfully in the couples passion for the arts and his superiors’ repeated threats to strip them of their rights to continue pursuing it.

As mentioned, there’s not a step missed here. The spartan set and costume design elegantly captures the essence of state oppression with much of the dialogue outside of the couple’s apartment working to the same end in parallel. Only in the apartment, through the cables of the listening devices, and in the face of Wiesler as he listens above does the warmth of human emotion fully reveal itself. While the production design and writing work a treat in tandem so do the directing and acting as Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck captures and quietly amplifies every flicker of emotion the sterling cast convey. Sebastian Koch and Martina Gedeck are superb in the role of the persecuted artists while Ulrich Mühe is just spellbinding as the even more tragic Wiesler. Though Kock and Gedeck’s characters are responsible for the more traditional drama, the emotion of their situation is realised primarily through the feint but unerring melting of Wiesler’s cold exterior which is perfectly conveyed by Mühe. It’s a powerful piece of acting and with Donnersmarck’s unobtrusive direction, one that seems more an integrated function of the film rather than just an added flourish. Just like every other aspect of the film’s production.

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