The Lives of Others

Film, Drama
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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The Lives of Others
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.

By: Geoff Andrew

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Release details

Rated: 15
Release date: Friday April 13 2007
Duration: 137 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Screenwriter: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Cast: Martina Gedeck
Ulrich Mühe
Sebastian Koch