International Writers Magazine:
So were the Germans,
although their point of view was slightly different. But it has changed
now. The Lives of Others takes place in in German film often neglected
era of the GDR. And it brings a new perspective on the life in a communist
Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen)
Written and directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
starring Ulrich Mühe, Martina Gedeck, Sebastian Koch.
There are different ways how film-makers from formal satellite states
of the Soviet Union deal with their communist past. The Czechs are
often drowning in forgiving sentimentality (Cosy Dens by
Jan Hebejk), the Hungarians ironize in some way comical practices
of secret police agents (The Life of an Agent by Gabor Zsigond
Papp), the Poles are still in the second world war (The Pianist
by Roman Polanski for example).
Von Donnersmarcks film looks behind the doors of STASI, the German
secret police, which were virtually everywhere. Film shows the life of
artists in a world of restrictions, censorship and never ending danger
of an irresponsible arrest and it shows it quite faithfully. It also shows
the life of the agents who are responsible for the constant fear among
the people and here is very credible as well. But there is one exception
agent HGW XX/7 (U. Mühe) who is supposed to watch over one
of those artists, Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch), and who is going to
change during this task. There is a certain lack of credibility about
this leading man considered from the historical point of view. Possibly
every other agent and actually every single figure in this film are somehow
more credible than HGW. Fortunately it is not a documentary movie. It
is a drama, really good one, and drama needs dramatic characters more
than the real ones. And there is a real strength of The Lives of Others
- painful conflict of well built dramatic characters in an unpleasantly
The plot itself is actually quite ordinary. The way it is treated in is
as austere as it can be. And here the director shows real mastery. There
is not a single scene longer than it should be, at least not in the first
90 minutes of the film. The story is told as simply as possible, characters
are built in real life situations by short dialogues, by their actions
and reactions, quick glances and telling details. This style of story
telling requires very convincing acting and you will really enjoy actors
performances. Especially Ulrich Mühe, unfortunately recently deceased,
is astoundingly good. There is not a superfluous word said, there is no
unnecessary action taken. Yet there are strong but not enforced emotions
behind, showed without affected gestures. Everything flows rather quickly,
naturally and painfully.
However, no film is perfect and The Lives of Other isnt an
exception. There are some unnecessary exaggerated gestures after all.
There are moments when the contrast of not entirely realistic HGW and
the realistic setting comes up. But those flaws are usually successfully
disguised by excellent and well fitting music so you might not notice
them at all. And even if you do, it doesnt spoil the whole film.
At the most, it makes you realise it is just a film you are watching.
Like many of his predecessors working with strong historical events, not
even von Donnersmarck was able to leave his story in the right moment.
But can the audience enjoy the cathartic almost -happy end? And that is
a quality some people will surely appreciate. Although it can somehow
make you forget that the main hero was actually the villain
of the story.
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