Every now and then, a film comes along that stops you in your tracks. For me and I suspect, many others, these events do not occur on an annual basis. Indeed, Kieslowski's THREE COLOURS:RED was the last time a film really floored me. Yesterday evening, it happened again.
THE LIVES OF OTHERS (Das Leben der Anderen) is set in East Berlin in - very appropriately - 1984. Then, the population of the German Democratic Republic were kept under strict control by the Stasi - East German secret police who used 100,000 employees and 200,000 informants to curtail any subversive activity; real or imagined. THE LIVES OF OTHERS infiltrates these turbulent times, focusing on Stasi agent Wiesler (the late Ulrich Muhe) who is instructed to monitor the activities of a playwright and his actress girlfriend (Sebastain Koch and Martina Gedeck), with the aid of audio surveillance equipment. As events unfold, Wiesler's attitude and commitment begins to change, with exposure to the lives of others introducing beliefs and philosophies which had been previously denied. One of the most astonishing things about this production is that it marks the feature debut of Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck, and won him the Oscar for Best Foreign Film at the 2007 Academy awards. Von Donnersmarck knew exactly who he wanted for the key roles, and his faith and eye for superb actors was rewarded with some marvellous performances. The multi-layered screenplay - penned by Muhi and his director - provided the cast with some wonderful dialogue, while the score becomes an extra performer, weaving around the scenes like some celestial overseer. Donnersmarck explores political doctorine, its effects on those who serve and those forced to follow, and also says a lot about human nature and how people are changed by the simple act of observing and listening. It would be especially harsh to select any highlights from a film that is totally absorbing from start to finish as key moments are many, en route to the most beautiful finale I've seen in years. And years. Special mention must go to Ulrich Muhe, who sadly died in July 2007 from stomach cancer. He was just 54 years old. Michael Haneke buffs will be familiar with this fine actor who appeared in FUNNY GAMES and BENNY'S VIDEO. Muhe was successfully sued by his former wife as a result of a book which detailed his experiences as a victim of surveillance during 6 years as an East German citizen: the fact that his book provided cast-iron proof of his story accounted for nothing. Thanks to Muhe and his director, we now have a better understanding of a harsh political regime; of how good people were hounded and spied on by those whose vision couldn't or wouldn't see the madness in their area.
A masterpiece, no less.