The Lives of Others Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

The Lives of Others Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Change comes slowly to humans, as it does to the protagonist in von Donnersmarck’s remarkable Oscar-winning film The Lives of Others, which looks at a secret policeman in the Eastern bloc German Democratic Republic in the ’80s who rediscovers his humanity as he discovers art for the first time. Ulrich Mühe is loyal Stasi (secret police) agent Gerd Wiesler, charged with monitoring playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch), who hasn’t done anything wrong - his work is admirably pro-Socialist - but the State is keeping tabs just in case. When Wiesler realises that a ranking Party official has the hots for Dreyman’s girlfriend, he suspects that the State to which he has been fiercely loyal may not be impervious to corruption after all. Through wiretaps and interrogations, Wiesler comes to admire the artist and his world, which slowly thaws a long-dormant part of his soul. Through every detail of look and sound, writer/director von Donnersmarck puts his stamp on this incredible, compelling film. Though unintentionally, the cast is filled with East German actors (including Mühe, who showed the director his own Stasi police file), which lends an even further air of authenticity. But this is no 1984, no V For Vendetta - though certainly a condemnation of the system it portrays, it’s more interested in human culture versus grand ideas than becoming a film version of a political dissertation. Von Donnersmarck proves himself eloquent in several languages on the DVD; a German "making of” outlines details, like the original Eastern bloc spy machinery they used, while an English interview demonstrates von Donnersmarck’s commitment and time invested, including months interviewing both Stasi agents and Eastern bloc artists. He shows a remarkable depth of understanding - of film, of politics and of ideas ⎯ in an English commentary as well. It’s a remarkable film that would suffer a terrible disservice if only seen as "foreign,” "political” or "arty” filmmaking - it’s humanism in art at a very high level. Plus: deleted scenes. (Sony)