The Lives of Others (15)

Film

Drama

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Time Out says

Thu Oct 19 2006

Over the last few years, Germany has been giving us so many fine films that it almost feels as if the heady energies of the early ’70s have returned. Admittedly, no one as distinctive as Herzog has yet appeared, though there are a few promising talents whose work echoes that of early Fassbinder and Wenders. And this particular multi-award-winning first feature might at least be seen as the sort of strong, solid, politically relevant genre piece that used to be Volker Schlöndorff’s speciality.

A remarkably assured work, it paints an altogether darker picture of life under East Germany’s Communist regime than the almost cosy existence nostalgically evoked by the likes of ‘Good Bye Lenin!’ Set for the most part in East Berlin during the mid-1980s, it charts the consequences of the Minister of Culture’s decision to investigate, by means of the intense surveillance practised as a matter of course by the Stasi, the political affiliations and activities of playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) and his actress lover Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck) – for whose sexual favours the politician brazenly lusts. It’s not just the artists and their friends whose lives are profoundly affected by the bugging of the couple’s apartment, but also that of Captain Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe), the surveillance expert put in charge of spying on them, who gradually comes to question the ethics of his work for the state police.

Von Donnersmarck’s complex but lucid script, with its wholly credible twists, and Hagen Bogdanski’s sombre, noir-inflected camerawork together serve not only to establish a brooding atmosphere of fear, doubt and suspicion but to create a suspenseful thriller of no little contemporary relevance to a world where fundamental civil liberties are increasingly at risk of being undermined. Only a slightly distended ending weakens the film’s grip; even then, however, the performances remain superb, ensuring that the movie succeeds both as unusually convincing historical recreation and as an utterly compelling tale of individuals whose lives are shaped – tragically – by the society they live in.
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Release details

Rated:

15

UK release:

Fri Apr 13, 2007

Duration:

137 mins

Cast and crew

Director:

Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

Cast:

Martina Gedeck, Ulrich Mühe, Sebastian Koch

Screenwriter:

Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

Cinematography:

Hagen Bogdanski

Editor:

Patricia Rommel

Production Designer:

Silke Buhr

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LiveReviews|37
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Dommie

Very compelling film, comments about the characters suddenly changing their loyalty I feel is quite credible as most people support something until usually a single event makes them change their thinking for an example look at peoples belief in religion it can change in one event and slowly the new opinion gains strength. So the change of the Stasi officer was realistic in my opinion, he helped one time with the border crossing and then firstly was forced to protect himself and then he changed his loyalties seeing the peoples loyalty forced by the state. It felt like a good film version of Orwell's 1984 world.

Dommie

Very compelling film, comments about the characters suddenly changing their loyalty I feel is quite credible as most people support something until usually a single event makes them change their thinking for an example look at peoples belief in religion it can change in one event and slowly the new opinion gains strength. So the change of the Stasi officer was realistic in my opinion, he helped one time with the border crossing and then firstly was forced to protect himself and then he changed his loyalties seeing the peoples loyalty forced by the state. It felt like a good film version of Orwell's 1984 world.

erik rochelmeyer

Excellent film. There is only one thing that lets it down slightly and that is the subtitles. They are so terrible, they do not represent the dialogue. They killed the boy's joke in the stasi canteen and misrepresented the fact that the playwrite gave at least the appearance of being in favour of the regime through his work even if his friend was a dissident. The film manages to shake off this flaw by some excellent acting and otherwise flawless film-making.

erik rochelmeyer

Excellent film. There is only one thing that lets it down slightly and that is the subtitles. They are so terrible, they do not represent the dialogue. They killed the boy's joke in the stasi canteen and misrepresented the fact that the playwrite gave at least the appearance of being in favour of the regime through his work even if his friend was a dissident. The film manages to shake off this flaw by some excellent acting and otherwise flawless film-making.

Nick, Guildford

Caroline makes certain interesting observations about the characterization of protagonists of this film, in particular the sudden conversion of Wiesler, the Stasi spy, but I feel she has missed one of the central tenets of the film, namely the triumph of the individual over the tyranny of the state. The reasons for Wiesler’s sudden epiphany were not spelt out directly for the viewer, but were entirely compelling and credible nonetheless. His conversion from brainwashed communist apparatchik into free thinking and empathetic human being were brought about by his very intrusion into the lives of others he was sent to spy on. His moral and emotional senses were awakened by witnessing a human relationship founded on a shared love of the intellectual, cultural and sensual. It was this that triggered his epiphany from heartless enforcer to sympathetic collaborator and to me it was abundantly clear.

Nick, Guildford

Caroline makes certain interesting observations about the characterization of protagonists of this film, in particular the sudden conversion of Wiesler, the Stasi spy, but I feel she has missed one of the central tenets of the film, namely the triumph of the individual over the tyranny of the state. The reasons for Wiesler’s sudden epiphany were not spelt out directly for the viewer, but were entirely compelling and credible nonetheless. His conversion from brainwashed communist apparatchik into free thinking and empathetic human being were brought about by his very intrusion into the lives of others he was sent to spy on. His moral and emotional senses were awakened by witnessing a human relationship founded on a shared love of the intellectual, cultural and sensual. It was this that triggered his epiphany from heartless enforcer to sympathetic collaborator and to me it was abundantly clear.

Diane Laws

It was a stunningly beautiful film and Caroline's synopsis simply missed the point of it. The events in the film unfold because all 3 men are in love with Christa; that she may, in fact, be unworthy of their love, is not the point. In the end, Wiseler is the true 'good man' - his integrity intact just like 'The Good Soldier' or 'The Great Gatsby' before him. I did wonder why the film wasn't called that in the first place -but then I suppose, it would have given Wiseler's position away too early in the film.

Diane Laws

It was a stunningly beautiful film and Caroline's synopsis simply missed the point of it. The events in the film unfold because all 3 men are in love with Christa; that she may, in fact, be unworthy of their love, is not the point. In the end, Wiseler is the true 'good man' - his integrity intact just like 'The Good Soldier' or 'The Great Gatsby' before him. I did wonder why the film wasn't called that in the first place -but then I suppose, it would have given Wiseler's position away too early in the film.

FJW

A magnificent film. I watched it yesterday at 4pm. Then again at midnight. About to make a cup of tea and watch it again.

FJW

A magnificent film. I watched it yesterday at 4pm. Then again at midnight. About to make a cup of tea and watch it again.

usman khawaja

This is the prodigal piece of cinema that thrashed WATER and PANS LABYRINTH and DAYS OF GLORY at the oscars this year in a very controversial coup d ’etat ,whether it deserves its accolodes depends on how you perceive your environment today as thats THE ISSUE it deals with in a very sensitive manner as it explores the issue of an individuals suveillance by the state in the context of the private rights of a citizen, free speech and civil liberties in a world where these words are becoming a luxury rather then a natural privilege . The theme is disguised in the seedy berlin suburbs of GDR in 1984 before the berlin wall came down in 1989 in the proletarian state of the GLOSNOST terror where an intellectual playwright suspected of associating with the west is targeted by the comrades through his lovers weakness of being a drug addict who also happens to be a great theatre actress being sexually abused by a minister of the corrupt communist regime . The poignant but amazingly realistic execution is rendered like a streaming waterfall which is powerful but lyrical like the beethovens symphony APASSIONATA played by the main lead in a sombre moment on a RISOCH PIANO ,while he quotes LENINS famous words that if he kept listening to this immortal musical piece how would he ever succeed in finishing the russian revolution, and its even more miraculous when you realise this is the debut by this german writer -director DONNERSMARCK , WHO PROVES HIMSELF TO BE A MODERN DAY ORSON WELLES in his very first movie . The movie is shot in toned down colors with minimum dialogues and very appropriately indoors which makes you feel claustrophobic at times to express the anguish of the characters living in a police state ,the rythmic editing and the grey interiors set the mood for a film noir but its a brutally realistic movie which touches your heart and mind simultaneously . The actors are living rather then acting their roles and the main triad played by SEBASTIAN KOCH as playwright DEYMER , martina gadeck as MARIA-CHTISTINA ,AND WIESLER [ulrich muhe from lola],[ who is the man in charge of the wiring and tapping of the operation of a private apartment to entrap the innocent prey in a cat and mouse game where the stakes are his head if he fails to deliver the rebellious writer to the comrades ],are flawless ,as are the rest of the cast and crew ,yet it is wiesler who steals the movie from beginning to end as the double dealing greyish mysterious character whose mind is as unfathomable as the universe , his character will evoke every possible emotion you can associate with the human condition in general and particularly in the ghetto of a communist regime where a whimper or whisper against the state is enough for an individual to disappear forever, The most fascinating aspect of the movie is where he is shown tutoring fellow communists the techniques of torturing indiividuals to make them divulge the truth for the greater good of the state but his slow but convincing turnabout is a triumph to the immaculate script .yet as he wiretaps the couple and transgresses on their private life he comes to sympathise with their vulnerability because of a human weakness called conscience .the tiny microphones hidden in the walls reveal to him two victims rather then traitors who are being perversely treated by a shallow state rather then being subversive themselves . the movie reminds me of the COPPOLLA ,HACKMAN-HARRISON FORD classic the CONVERSATION as well as THE WATERGATE movie ALLTHE PRESIDENTS MEN , but as a drama its better then its hollywood counterparts anyday . it interrogates the human conscience at the time when we have the horrors of guatanamo bay and countless infringements and violations of personal and private liberties by our so called democratically elected states who claim to be fighting terrorists , yet it triumphs by demonstrating how an individual can thwart an entire regime and its evil designs if he is just able to abide by his conscience . it will leave you stunned by its ORWELLIAN content in a world where 1984 and BIG BROTHER HAVE BECOME A CLUMSY BUT TERRIFYING reality , and you will be compelled to ask one question am i being watched and the reply is ..... yes

usman khawaja

This is the prodigal piece of cinema that thrashed WATER and PANS LABYRINTH and DAYS OF GLORY at the oscars this year in a very controversial coup d ’etat ,whether it deserves its accolodes depends on how you perceive your environment today as thats THE ISSUE it deals with in a very sensitive manner as it explores the issue of an individuals suveillance by the state in the context of the private rights of a citizen, free speech and civil liberties in a world where these words are becoming a luxury rather then a natural privilege . The theme is disguised in the seedy berlin suburbs of GDR in 1984 before the berlin wall came down in 1989 in the proletarian state of the GLOSNOST terror where an intellectual playwright suspected of associating with the west is targeted by the comrades through his lovers weakness of being a drug addict who also happens to be a great theatre actress being sexually abused by a minister of the corrupt communist regime . The poignant but amazingly realistic execution is rendered like a streaming waterfall which is powerful but lyrical like the beethovens symphony APASSIONATA played by the main lead in a sombre moment on a RISOCH PIANO ,while he quotes LENINS famous words that if he kept listening to this immortal musical piece how would he ever succeed in finishing the russian revolution, and its even more miraculous when you realise this is the debut by this german writer -director DONNERSMARCK , WHO PROVES HIMSELF TO BE A MODERN DAY ORSON WELLES in his very first movie . The movie is shot in toned down colors with minimum dialogues and very appropriately indoors which makes you feel claustrophobic at times to express the anguish of the characters living in a police state ,the rythmic editing and the grey interiors set the mood for a film noir but its a brutally realistic movie which touches your heart and mind simultaneously . The actors are living rather then acting their roles and the main triad played by SEBASTIAN KOCH as playwright DEYMER , martina gadeck as MARIA-CHTISTINA ,AND WIESLER [ulrich muhe from lola],[ who is the man in charge of the wiring and tapping of the operation of a private apartment to entrap the innocent prey in a cat and mouse game where the stakes are his head if he fails to deliver the rebellious writer to the comrades ],are flawless ,as are the rest of the cast and crew ,yet it is wiesler who steals the movie from beginning to end as the double dealing greyish mysterious character whose mind is as unfathomable as the universe , his character will evoke every possible emotion you can associate with the human condition in general and particularly in the ghetto of a communist regime where a whimper or whisper against the state is enough for an individual to disappear forever, The most fascinating aspect of the movie is where he is shown tutoring fellow communists the techniques of torturing indiividuals to make them divulge the truth for the greater good of the state but his slow but convincing turnabout is a triumph to the immaculate script .yet as he wiretaps the couple and transgresses on their private life he comes to sympathise with their vulnerability because of a human weakness called conscience .the tiny microphones hidden in the walls reveal to him two victims rather then traitors who are being perversely treated by a shallow state rather then being subversive themselves . the movie reminds me of the COPPOLLA ,HACKMAN-HARRISON FORD classic the CONVERSATION as well as THE WATERGATE movie ALLTHE PRESIDENTS MEN , but as a drama its better then its hollywood counterparts anyday . it interrogates the human conscience at the time when we have the horrors of guatanamo bay and countless infringements and violations of personal and private liberties by our so called democratically elected states who claim to be fighting terrorists , yet it triumphs by demonstrating how an individual can thwart an entire regime and its evil designs if he is just able to abide by his conscience . it will leave you stunned by its ORWELLIAN content in a world where 1984 and BIG BROTHER HAVE BECOME A CLUMSY BUT TERRIFYING reality , and you will be compelled to ask one question am i being watched and the reply is ..... yes

Tony Rocco

A thoroughly absorbing film set in the bleak backdrop of a nation divided not only by a wall but by a regime so obsessed with its self existence it had to rely on the efforts of its own people from every profession to 'spy' on the activities and movements of every individual, regardless of whether they posed any threat to a regime so immersed in its communist ideal. The real beauty of this film for me, above all else, is that it is so untypical German. I say this because it really packs an emotional punch and although we see the film begin with an examination of interrogation techniques so typically associated with the 'cold war era' the film moves tensely but patiently into a very normal group of actors, actresses, playwrights, poets and Directors doing very ordinary things. These were not Western Capitalists desperate to free themselves from a regime; these were just 'artists' wanting to express their art on an everyday level. So here I think lies the conflict for the authorities. How could or should they deal with this group of people? These were not an underground resistance, they were just artists with a passion for books, music and film and because they did not overtly conform to the 'normal' way of thinking they were deemed a dangerous appendage on German Society. As the film gathers momentum we begin to almost will the Stasi officer Wiesler played by Ulriche Muhe (who himself was spied on for many years) to tell Dreyman (played by Sebastian Koch) that he need not worry because he has an Angel literally over his head. Muhe seems to almost enjoy the cat and mouse confrontation with his superior who can only worry about his own promotional prospects by 'digging some dirt' on Dreyman, who happens to be living with a drug dependant girlfriend Christa-Maria Sieland '(who is secretly conducting an affair with a party official in return for drugs and a long acting career). Muhe is torn between what he knows he should do but also with what he feels he should do and after being drawn in by the music of Beethoven he begins to embark on a dangerous and incredibly tense journey to do something, even if it is to his own detriment. I was so moved by this film that I watched the final 15 minutes again and again, to think that the Stasi files gathered on all the individuals over so many years, would, if stretched run for over 100 kilometres we begin to understand exactly how meticulous and paranoid the regime actually was. Regardless of all the underlying political message this film is a triumph on every level, beautifully crafted, intelligently written and set to the wonderful sounds of Gabriel Yareds musical score (better known for Talented Mr Ripley) I urge everyone to watch this film and enjoy it as much as I did. Vorsprungduch Technik as they say in Germany!

Tony Rocco

A thoroughly absorbing film set in the bleak backdrop of a nation divided not only by a wall but by a regime so obsessed with its self existence it had to rely on the efforts of its own people from every profession to 'spy' on the activities and movements of every individual, regardless of whether they posed any threat to a regime so immersed in its communist ideal. The real beauty of this film for me, above all else, is that it is so untypical German. I say this because it really packs an emotional punch and although we see the film begin with an examination of interrogation techniques so typically associated with the 'cold war era' the film moves tensely but patiently into a very normal group of actors, actresses, playwrights, poets and Directors doing very ordinary things. These were not Western Capitalists desperate to free themselves from a regime; these were just 'artists' wanting to express their art on an everyday level. So here I think lies the conflict for the authorities. How could or should they deal with this group of people? These were not an underground resistance, they were just artists with a passion for books, music and film and because they did not overtly conform to the 'normal' way of thinking they were deemed a dangerous appendage on German Society. As the film gathers momentum we begin to almost will the Stasi officer Wiesler played by Ulriche Muhe (who himself was spied on for many years) to tell Dreyman (played by Sebastian Koch) that he need not worry because he has an Angel literally over his head. Muhe seems to almost enjoy the cat and mouse confrontation with his superior who can only worry about his own promotional prospects by 'digging some dirt' on Dreyman, who happens to be living with a drug dependant girlfriend Christa-Maria Sieland '(who is secretly conducting an affair with a party official in return for drugs and a long acting career). Muhe is torn between what he knows he should do but also with what he feels he should do and after being drawn in by the music of Beethoven he begins to embark on a dangerous and incredibly tense journey to do something, even if it is to his own detriment. I was so moved by this film that I watched the final 15 minutes again and again, to think that the Stasi files gathered on all the individuals over so many years, would, if stretched run for over 100 kilometres we begin to understand exactly how meticulous and paranoid the regime actually was. Regardless of all the underlying political message this film is a triumph on every level, beautifully crafted, intelligently written and set to the wonderful sounds of Gabriel Yareds musical score (better known for Talented Mr Ripley) I urge everyone to watch this film and enjoy it as much as I did. Vorsprungduch Technik as they say in Germany!

David Flood

The music sets the moving and melancholic mood of this film from the start, then the actors deliver and then the script delivers. Perfect, down the last scene. Probably the best film I have ever seen.

David Flood

The music sets the moving and melancholic mood of this film from the start, then the actors deliver and then the script delivers. Perfect, down the last scene. Probably the best film I have ever seen.

uhb129b

I have to disappoint you, Caroline. There were no Hollywood-like goods and bads in that regime, and the goods did not ultimately win. The whole point is that nothing was straightforward in that world. I even think the film over-simplified the reality in order to make it comprehensible for the mass-audience.

uhb129b

I have to disappoint you, Caroline. There were no Hollywood-like goods and bads in that regime, and the goods did not ultimately win. The whole point is that nothing was straightforward in that world. I even think the film over-simplified the reality in order to make it comprehensible for the mass-audience.

tom

An absurdly over-rated polemic with 2-dimensional goodies and baddies.