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A Masterpiece: The Lives of Others film review

Updated on June 28, 2012
The Beautiful Martina Gedeck
The Beautiful Martina Gedeck
Wiesler can't resist getting closer
Wiesler can't resist getting closer

Academy Award Winner

Lives of Others 2006 with trailer

Films are one of the things in life I am most fond of. It is such a powerful medium that can account, persuade, preserve and inform. Films possess the power to influence the viewer’s emotions.

I would like to introduce you to a film that has the full quota of those qualities. The Lives of Others, made in Germany in 2006 is a wonderfully compelling story of the lengths the East German police went to keep tabs on its citizens in the 1980’s. This of course, is before the Berlin Wall was pulled down and before Germany was reunited. Directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmark the film centres on Stasi officer who has a prominent artist and his lover under surveillance. Life in East Germany at this time was pretty bleak. At the time East Germany had one of the highest rates of suicide in the world and there is suspicion that the government are not being forthright is reporting accurate figures.

Dreyman, a successful playwright, (played by Sebastian Kock) and his lover Sieland, a popular actress (played by the beautiful Martina Gedeck) attracts the attention of the Culture Minister. He instructs Wiesler (played by Ulrich Muhe) to observe the couple. The Culture Minister had concerns that the artistic couple were not toeing the party line. This suspicion was fuelled by his sexual interest in Sieland.

Wiesler, a Stasi agent, has Dreyman’s apartment bugged and sets up a surveillance centre in the building adjacent. Initially this is an assignment he relishes as he knows a favourable outcome will result in pleasing his superiors. At this juncture Wiesler is a dedicated party man approaching his duties with diligence and with a history of achievement. However, throughout the course of observing this artistic couple he slowly begins to question his ideals. Is the rigid rule he abides by, the rules upon which he has built his career, lacking compassion? Are they morally correct?

As time passes, Wiesler is further exposed to Dreyman’s and Sieland’s life. Their friendships, passions, disagreements… he becomes beguiled by it relative to his own bland existence.

Prompted by the suicide of his playwright friend, Dreyman is inspired to write negatively of the East German state and publish his work in the West. This would represent the subversive behaviour that the culture minister is so eager to find and hold against Dreyman. Wiesler has to make a choice. Does he toe the line and report this? Or will he be selective with what he reports? Wiesler is walking a dangerous line. How will he deal with these new thoughts and emotions developing in his heart and in his head?

The lives of others is a brilliantly made film with some wonderful performances. Martina Gedeck is perfection and can be considered one the best actresses around at the moment. As a viewer you will be transported back in time to this context and fully believe every inch of it. The director, von Donnersmarck, manages to articulate perfectly the issues of the time. The sense of Wiesler’s loneliness is vivid and expressing how unremarkable his life is, is vital to understanding the film.

Many people might be put off watching this as it is subtitled. I would strongly urge you not to turn your back on these films as there are some very good films in world cinema. On this occasion we looked at a German film and below are some other titles that will impress you from German cinema.

  • Stalingrad
  • Downfall
  • Goodbye Lenin!
  • The Edukators
  • The Baader Meinhoff Complex
  • Das Boot

Would a subtitled film stop you watching it?

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    • Lizam1 profile image

      Lizam1 5 years ago from Victoria BC

      Thanks. I will look

      out for this.