The Lives of Others was as highly praised a movie to come out of 2007. All my friends and family loved it and with that kind of build up I half expected to be a little disappointed – but director Florian Maria Georg Christian Graf Henckel von Donnersmarck, helming his first feature film, does not fail to impress.
Set in 1984 in East Germany, the plot involves the surveillance of a playwright and his actress girlfriend by the Stasi, the country's feared secret police. It's an interesting time in recent history, especially for those of us that grew up as kids knowing vaguely about the wall that stood between East and West Germany, but never having had any real knowledge or understanding of what it might have been like to live there.
This totalitarian environment that runs on fear and eventually breaks down all love and and trust between its citizens is heart breaking. This is not a movie that makes you cry, but one that you feel broken apart by the unfairness of the world. It's hard to imagine (though perhaps less so in the age of the Patriot Act) what you would do under such circumstances, how far you would push against the powerful to think freely and save the people you care about.
The acting here is superb and understated, particularly by the late Ulrich M?he who plays a Stasi agent who undergoes an unexpected change of heart. Curiously, M?he claims his own life mirrors that of one of the films' characters; he thought that his own wife of several years had been informing on him to the Stasi – and while she won a lawsuit preventing him from making that allegation in print, records show he may have been right.
Sebastian Koch, who reminds me very much of Jeroen Krabb? from the Fourth Man, and the stunning Martina Gedeck are also fabulous here. The cinematography manages to be rich while working in a monochromatic range with occassional pops of burnt warm tones. It's a film well deserving of its many awards and great acclaim – but it's not melodramatic or flashy, only steady, sophisticated and haunting.