A review of “The Lives of Others” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ****

Rating: R for violence, language and mature themes. In German with English subtitles

Run Time: 2 hours, 17 minutes

 

 

Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (say it ten times fast) crafts an intensely personal drama about the nightmarish years of East Germany’s creative cold war.

The German Democratic Republic circa 1984 is still a place of exploitation and evil. Loyal dramatist Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) is the darling of the regime, churning out cultural hits while others of his ilk are shunned or worse.

Such political allegiance isn’t above suspicion according to Stasi officer Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe), whose unwavering belief in his country’s political philosophy clouds his judgment and steeps him in paranoia. Thus when the ruthless Secret Police officer attends a performance of Dreyman’s new play he determines to expose the chinks in the playwright’s socialist armor.

Wiesler bugs Dreyman’s apartment and sets up shop on the floor above, his listening post a solitary and voyeuristic sanctuary. When Wiesler discovers that Dreyman’s popular actress girlfriend Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck) is also the plaything of a powerful government minister he takes matters into his own hands.

Donnersmarck’s scathing indictment of East Germany’s corrupt administration is tempered by the very human emotion of the people it touched. His masterful script ebbs and flows with hope, fear and pathos while paying brilliant homage to Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Conversation”.

“Lives” is not the wistful look at the East Germany so fondly recollected in “Good Bye Lenin!” but rather a riveting expose of a government that paralyzed its citizens and crippled its own culture. A thrilling and compelling work extremely worthy of its nod for a Best Foreign Film Oscar.