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Das Leben der Anderen translates as The Lives of Others. Often foreign films have very different titles in English and, in this case, German (with subtitles). But this time, the titles are the same and are both very descriptive of what this new film is about. Lives of Others was the one big upset on Oscar night when it won Best Foreign Film over the prohibitive favorite, Pan's Labyrinth. And I can't say that the Oscar voters were wrong. Pan's Labyrinth is an excellent although very troubling film. The same can be said for Lives of Others. But while Pan's Labyrinth was a tale of good and evil and plays out through physical violence, Lives of Others is all about the shades of grey that we all live in, that lie between good and evil, and the violence is to the psyche.
Lives of Others is set in 1980's East Germany, in the last few years before the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Stasi, the secret police, kept a close watch on anyone who was suspected of being subversive. Thousands of people became informers, willingly or not, and gave information to the Stasi on their neighbors. Setec Astronomy. Needless to say, this created a climate of fear where no one knew who they could trust. This atmosphere of distrust, which existed in East Germany at that time, is starkly re-created in Lives of Others. It follows the lives of some potential subversives, in particular, a writer (Sebastian Koch) and an actress (Martina Gedeck), pictured above left. They are being watched by a career Stasi officer (Ulrich Mühe), pictured above right. Every day, he sits in the attic above their bugged flat and listens to their lives. Koch and his friends are all under stress. They want to help change things in East Germany but they also want to avoid the Stasi who have the power to make their lives a living hell. But it is Gedeck who comes under the most pressure. The minister of cultural affairs (Thomas Thieme) is a pig, and he has made it clear that sex with him is the price for her to continue her acting career. He has also ordered the Stasi to get something on her boyfriend, Gedeck, to get him out of the picture. And so Mühe ends up sitting in the attic listening in. He is a lonely man and he begins to live vicariously through the lives of others.
Watching Lives of Others is like watching a slow motion train wreck. The director, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck is a recent film school dropout and this is his first feature. He was awarded his diploma when he finished Lives of Others. He does a great job slowly developing the oppressive atmosphere that all of the characters feel in this movie. The cast is excellent. Martina Gedeck is the only one who I was familiar with. She did a very nice little film where she plays a chef, called Mostly Martha. She is great here, as are Koch and especially Mühe as the conflicted Stasi agent. Lives of Others is really his film and we see everything through his eyes. He is a microcosm for East Germany itself. And as he comes apart so does the Wall. Lives of Others deserves its Oscar.