Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen)

You can't move on the Tube at the moment without seeing a poster for The Lives of Others. Boosted by its Oscar and the almost unanimous critical praise (only the Sindy was sniffy and who it reads that anyway) it looks like it might be the first European film to cross over into the mainstream since Amile. And it deserves to.

Set in 1980s East Berlin it, in simple terms, tells the story of a Stasi officer, Gerd Weisler, who is tasked to spy on Georg Dreyman, a seemingly loyal playwright whose partner also happens to be sleeping with a senior party official. Spying on this couple awakes Weisler's humanity, with disastrous consequences.

As a thriller it is extremely competent. The Girl and I had both worked out what was going to happen with 45 minutes to go. We were both wrong. It also has its lighter, comedic, moments ,that nicely counterpoint the gloom. But what makes this film great is its chilling evocation of a time and place that many, east and west, would prefer to see swept under the carpet of history. A place where a child's unguarded word can land a father in prison, an innocent joke told in the canteen can potentially ruin a career. A public sphere sucked dry of humanity. Central to this is a brilliant performance by Ulrich Muehe as Weisler. How Muehe's face can both be so expressionless as the prototypically inhuman secret policeman and yet be so evocative of the humanity buried within that slowly comes to surface without ever breaking it, is breathtaking. It is worth the admission price alone. Sebastian Koch as Dreyman gives a strong performance too as a man finally driven to take a stand he knows he should have made years before.

Its not perfect by any means. The end section is too long, although it does contain perhaps the best one-liner I've seen in a film for a while. Why this case affects Weisler whilst so many others haven't is never really satisfactorily explained. But still these are minor quibbles for what is an extremely strong piece of film making. Go and see it.


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6:43 am  

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