Friday, 25 May 2007

Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others), dir. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (2007)

The Lives of Others is the feature film debut of Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, and it is can only be described as a stunning achievement. It tells the story of a playwright, Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) and his girlfriend, a renowned actress Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck), living in East Germany and trying to make art and toe the party line. They eventually come under the scrutiny of the secret police and it is then that Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe) begins to observe them. His credentials are impeccable, as the chilling opening scenes testify. But he was not expecting to find himself emotionally involved in the lives of these two subjects, and especially Christa-Maria, and his navigation of these feelings - weaving perilously between the expectations of the State (itself a complex of vested interests and ideals) and his personal involvement. When Dreyman writes an inflammatory article dealing with the subject of suicide, in response to the death of a black-listed director friend, and publishes it anonymously in Der Spiegel, the pressure mounts and the State apparatus closes in.

The film deals beautifully with the personal and the political, the microcosm and macrocosm of our lives and how we reconstruct lived experience. The Stasi relentlessly records every (seemingly absurd) detail building up an enormous archive. Dreyman, years later, returns to the Stasi offices to read his own files and only then makes sense of what happened. It is a remarkable and moving scene, and results in him writing a novel, Sonata for a Good Man (a piece of music given him by the director who committed suicide). The archive had been a menacing and threatening instrument used against the country's residents, but now becomes a heuristic source for rebuilding their lives.

I highly recommend this stimulating, moving and affecting film. You won't be disappointed.

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