livesofothers-02.jpgBIG BROTHER

Operation “Big Brother” is launched.
Subject: The German film “The Lives of Others”
Reported by iwatchedthismovie (code name)

21:00:00 ET
The movie starts. It informs:

1984, East Berlin. Glasnot is nowhere in sight. The population of the GDR (German Democratic Republic) is kept under by the Stasi, the East German Secret Police. Its force of 100,000 employees and 200,000 informers safeguards the Dictatorship of the Proletarait. Its declared goal: “To know everything.”

First appearance of Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe), an intimidating Stasi interrogator. In his initial scene, Wiesler keeps a prisoner awake for long hours, repeatedly asking the captive to recount his whereabouts on September 28th.

Chief Stasi Officer Anton Grubitz (Ulrich Tukur) is introduced. He invites Wiesler to go to the theater with him.

At the theater, Wiesler and Grubitz position themselves on the balcony seats, surveying the film’s other players below: Minister Hempf, the playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch), and the stage actress Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck).

Even if Georg Dreyman is supportive and loyal to the government, Grubitz suspects “maybe he’s not clean as he seems.” Following on the chief’s gut feeling, Minister Hempf orders to have the playwright’s apartment bugged.

Wiesler, assigned to monitor Dreyman, tails the playwright. He patiently stands outside the apartment, noting that actress Sieland is his girlfriend. Wiesler also records that a mysterious car drops her off at nights.

The next day, Wiesler and a crew of five men enter Dreyman’s empty apartment. They bug the entire place by inserting audio wires and cables behind light switches and wallpapers. The task is completed within twenty minutes. Wiesler sets up a surveillance center on the building’s attic. He’s equipped with listening devices, a headphone, and a typewriter to make note of suspicious activities.

** From this time forth, details of the plot will remain undisclosed. This is a matter of high-level security. This is to protect you from deadly spoilers that could demolish your enjoyment of the movie.

I think my heart just skipped a beat. Or maybe the time stood still.

The last scene ends on a perfect note.

I had a preconceived notion that “The Lives of Others” seems fishy as an Oscar winner. Yet, as I viewed the evidence on the screen, it becomes apparent that this film is no fluke. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck is dexterous in weaving his tale with compelling threads of thriller and drama. But I think the major accomplishment here is the characterization of Wiesler.

Late actor Ulrich Mühe portrays him with limited expression, and yet the viewer totally understands what he’s thinking and going through. Maybe this is because watching the movie itself parallels that of the character’s journey. The moment Wiesler is seduced by Dreyman’s life is the instant we are sucked in by the movie. The second Wiesler decides to leap from an observer to a participant is also the part where we are genuinely hooked. It’s amazing how the movie builds tension where even the slightest act of courage is too risky. The suspense uncommonly succeeds even with the film’s lack of style and consistently measured pace. This is a great film and one of the best from 2006. There’s no need to pan this emotional labyrinth of a film.

Proposed course of action:
Experience the movie. If a foreign film is too big of a risk, I hear there is a possibility of an American remake.

Grade: A

Martina Gedeck, Ulrich Mühe, Sebastian Koch, Ulrich Tukur, and Thomas Thieme
Screenplay by
Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Directed by
Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Rated R for some sexuality/nudity