[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B003OUV1H4][/pullquote] Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, or FHvD to his mates (maybe) recently directed Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie in The Tourist. The Lives of Others, which he both wrote and directed, was the film that gave him this shot at the Hollywood big time. It was critically acclaimed on release, and won the Best Foreign Language Film at the 2007 Oscars.
Perhaps significantly set in 1984, The Lives of Others centres around Wiesler, a Stasi official in East Berlin. At the opening of the film, he’s a classic ideologue, telling a group of students that their subjects for interrogation ˜are the enemies of socialism’.
Wiesler is soon assigned to surveille Georg Dreyman, ˜the only non-subversive writer to be admired in the West’. Wiesler at first takes to his task with relish, but quickly realises that the assignment was not commissioned because Dreyman’s socialist values are in question but because a Minister lusts after Dreyman’s girlfriend, and wants him out of the way. This causes Weisler to begin to question his role, becoming attached to his subjects; the act of watching changing the watcher.
The Lives of Others, while slow to start, picks up pace in a thrilling second half. The portrayal of a state where everyone is compromised is superbly realised. Every character in the film has something that can be used against them, or something to lose. And you can be sure that anything that can be used against them will be. You are rooting for characters who are caught up in the cogs of the state apparatus through no real fault of their own, despite the feeling that there’s an inevitability about the way it must end. In fact, the second half doesn’t really feel plotted, rather as if it’s playing out the only way it possibly could.
The performances are excellent across the board, but special mention must go to Ulrich Muhe as Wiesler, who convinces wholly as the official whose certainty crumbles, who makes a couple of tiny actions that take him down a road he can’t get off.