Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
“It’s 1984 and ‘glasnost is nowhere in sight'” (910, Tim Evans)
The Lives of Others is set during an incredibly intriguing time during Europe’s recent history. As Tim Evans says “the callousness of Cold War East Germany is chillingly conveyed.” (910) and he is right. it’s this obsessive desire to monitor the people of East Germany (or the GDR as it was at that time) in every single aspect of their lives that provides the backdrop to one of the most compelling films I have seen that deals with life on the other side of the Berlin Wall. Goodbye Lenin! (Wolfgang Becker, 2003) was good and fun to watch but The Lives of Others delves into the underhand tactics of the Stassi and the way they ruled a nation.
While the film centers on Dreyman, a director, and consequently those people in his life, including his actress girlfriend, Christa-Maria, they are not the most interesting aspect of this film. The most interesting character by far is Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe) as Tim Evans says he “finds himself growing fascinated by the urbane Dreyman’s domestic life with his beautiful actress lover Christa-Maria.” (910) and this is where the beauty of the film comes in.
Tasked with monitoring Dreyman for the purely selfish reasons of the Culture Minister (naturally he is after Dreyman’s girlfriend) leads to a surprising insight into what one government worker, Wiesler, does as a result of this dubious mission. Wiesler fascinates me. He’s an expressionless, almost emotionless grey little man, very much a part of the machine that forms the controlling government of the GDR. And yet over the course of the film he becomes slightly more human, even pushing aside his natural instinct to gather the name of a boy’s father for voicing an opinion against the Stassi. “Pushed out of the comfort zone of government-sanctioned spying, the expressionless Wiesler is shunted in directions he is profoundly unfamiliar with.” (910) He takes a number of risks to protect Dreyman, or rather more accurately Christa-Maria, risks that ultimately have dire consequences for him and fatal consequences for her.
The film is rather drab and dreary but then it is in-keeping with the style of that era and place. The ending is sweetly sentimental and very fitting. I actually enjoy watching films with subtitles as it forces me to pay attention to what I am watching rather than having a film playing in the background and only being half aware of what is happening.