The Lives of Others (2006)

26 Jun

This movie won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2006 so it goes without saying that it’s not in English.  It’s original title is Das Leben Der Anderen (Dahss Lee-bin Durr Ahn-durr-inn).  I had to bring that up because ever since I saw this film I’ve been saying the German title in my head.  How is that relevant here?  I could say it’s that the film is so powerful that I can’t stop thinking of it, which is true, but it’s more that I find random things stuck in my head all of the time.  For example, the lyrics to “That’s Not My Name” by the Ting Tings.  That song is so catchy that I find the Mister and I singing it for just about every purpose.  “Where is our pup-py?  I do not know.  I think he’s slee-ping and feeling low.  That’s not my fault.  That’s not my fault…” etc.

But since this movie is so wonderful it deserves my attention, so here we go.  This is a story of East Germany and the role of the Secret Police or Stasi.  It focuses on the select few who were allowed to live their lives as private citizens as long as they carried out their work without cause for suspicion.  A playwright, in particular, is seen here.  The film opens on one of his plays that shows strong support for the East German way of life.  His girlfriend stars in the play and this is when a leader of the Stasi decides he must have her.  The cost is that the playwright must be followed and spied on.  Something wrong must be discovered so that the actress can be his and the playwright can be eliminated.

Enter a Stasi detective who walks the party line.  He is happy to bug the playwright’s apartment and set up a surveillance unit in the attic of the apartment building in which the playwright lives.  But in doing so he slowly begins to see the humanity.  His eyes are opened to the flaws in the system.  It is his journey that captivates us as we follow him through his days.

This work was a passionate one from all involved.  The performances are brilliant and are given by actors who accepted only 20% of their usual salaries so that they could be part of this project.  The props master spent two years in a Stasi prison.  He worked diligently to insure that all props were authentic, borrowing from collectors and museums.  The director and writer Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck spent a month translating the screenplay into French so that he could interest Gabriel Yared into composing the score.  He was convinced that his touch was needed as music appears as a character in the film.  Though I can fault Donnersmarck for directing the beautiful but vapid The Tourist with Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, I can’t fault his work here.  Every touch is nuanced but genuine.  We are transported into this world and leave feeling unsettled, as we should.  Das Leben Der Anderen is powerful and does allow flinching.

It’s not an easy movie to watch but I truly enjoyed it.



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