'The Lives Of Others' Hot Film About The Cold War
Review By Robert Snyder
At first, it may seem surprising that "The Lives of Others" won the 2006 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Here is a flat, low-key, almost emotionless thriller about dirty dealings inside East Berlin during the Cold War in Orwellian 1984. But that was a flat, low-key almost emotionless time, five years before the Berlin Wall fell along with the entire Soviet Union.
The debut feature of 33-year-old Writer/Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, "Lives" concerns sneaks and surveillance in a vacuum-like world, where super constraint was the key to survival. Secret Police (Stasi) are standing on all corners and sitting in each attic - bugging, tape-recording and typing. However, unlike the "good old days" of the Gestapo, the German heart and soul is no longer in it. The focus of the Stasi investigation is handsome, charismatic playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) and his popular actress girlfriend, Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck). Actually, the probe is not initiated by anything in Dreyman's writing. It's simply because corrupt Minister Bruno Hempf (Thomas Thieme) has the hots for Christa-Maria and wants his rival out of the way. The assignment goes to ambitious Lt. Col. Anton Grubitz (Ulrich Tukur), who dumps the surveillance gig on his former teacher, Captain Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Muehe). The lackey's dog-like obedience is tested when a fondness for Georg and Christa-Maria forms as he listens to their every move and moan.
After a beloved theater director buckles under the blacklist and commits suicide, Dreyman decides to anonymously send a subversive exposé to the West German magazine, Der Spiegel. With the article's publication, Grubitz tightens the surveillance screws, turning mainly on Christa-Maria. In the eye of the hurricane, Dreyman calmly watches the tumult churning around him. However, tragedy finally invades his charmed life…though largely a result of a misunderstanding.
Half a decade later, détente dissolves the division in Germany ideology, allowing Dreyman to find out who his real friends were, a revelation which sparks a best-selling novel by the playwright. Still, "Lives" ends on a wistful note that the creative climate may have been more potent under a repressive regime. It is this subtle irony that von Donnersmarck captures so successfully…an all-important element that may be a major reason why the Oscar envelope went to the first-time feature filmmaker.