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The Lives of Others (2006)

Cast: Martina Gedeck, Ulrich Mühe, Sebastian Koch, more...
Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
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Studio: Sony Pictures
Genre: Drama, Foreign, Suspense/Thriller, Politics and Social Issues, Germany, Political Thriller, Espionage, Cold War
Running Time: 137 min.
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A man who has devoted his life to ferreting out "dangerous" characters is thrown into a quandary when he investigates a man who poses no threat in this drama, the first feature from German filmmaker Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. It's 1984, and Capt. Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe) is an agent of the Stasi, the East German Secret Police. Weisler carefully and dispassionately investigates people who might be deemed some sort of threat to the state. Shortly after Weisler's former classmate, Lt. Col. Grubitz (Ulrich Tukur), invites him to a theatrical piece by celebrated East German playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch), Minister Bruno Hempf (Thomas Thieme) informs Weisler that he suspects Dreyman of political dissidence, and wonders if this renowned patriot is all that he seems to be. As it turns out, Hempf has something of an ulterior motive for trying to pin something on Dreyman: a deep-seated infatuation with Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck), Dreyman's girlfriend. Nevertheless, Grubitz, who is anxious to further his career, appoints Weisler to spy on the gentleman with his help. Weisler plants listening devices in Dreyman's apartment and begins shadowing the writer. As Weisler monitors Dreyman's daily life, however (from a secret surveillance station in the gentleman's attic), he discovers the writer is one of the few East Germans who genuinely believes in his leaders. This changes over time, however, as Dreyman discovers that Christa-Maria is being blackmailed into a sexual relationship with Hempf, and one of Dreyman's friends, stage director Albert Jerska (Volkmar Kleinert), is driven to suicide after himself being blackballed by the government. Dreyman's loyalty thus shifts away from the East German government, and he anonymously posts an anti-establishment piece in a major newspaper which rouses the fury of government officials. Meanwhile, Weisler becomes deeply emotionally drawn into the lives of Dreyman and Sieland, and becomes something of an anti-establishment figure himself, embracing freedom of thought and expression. A major box-office success in Germany, Das Leben der Anderen (aka The Lives of Others) received its North American premiere at the 2006 Toronto Film Festival. ~ Mark Deming, All Movie Guide

GreenCine Member Reviews

The Good Man by RJones3 January 3, 2009 - 8:03 PM PST
1 out of 1 members found this review helpful
Moved as I was in watching this movie, my bent is to interrogate. Much is made of the Sonata for a Good Man, which is first a piano score given as a birthday present to the playwright Georg Dreyman, then a book by the same playwright bearing a dedication to his former surveillant, the Stasi agent Gerd Wiesler. It would have made an apt title for the movie as well, better at least than the overgeneral title it actually bears. What, then, is a good man? The question has decided political implications. For an anonymous reviewer of Libertas, "this is a black and white look at good and evil . . . a perfect film." For blogger Jeff Sharlet it is a "smarmy exercise in self-exculpation." What, from a dramatic perspective, brings about Wiesler's awakening of conscience? We see him shed a tear as he overhears Dreyman performing the sonata--not a Beethoven sonata, by the way, though the quote from Lenin about Beethoven's Appassionata is apropos (It might have distracted him from the revolution). Is it music that charms Wiesler? It cannot have been the example of Dreyman, who until late in the plot is one of the few true believers among artists of the GDR. Truth is, it is hard to know what brings about Wiesler's change of heart, and as we shed a tear, we wonder.

Well done, but not all that by Zenslinger January 16, 2008 - 2:37 PM PST
8 out of 8 members found this review helpful
It's an exaggeration to call this film "erotic" (a couple of so-so scenes) or a "nail-biting thriller" as the packaging does. But for what was to me a relatively slow-moving film, it does an incredible job of keeping the viewer's interest. From the first scene, the frightening control the Stasi have over East German society is palpable. Fortunately, this is juxtaposed with people who aren't under investigation seeming to lead pretty normal lives, so it doesn't take on an overdone dystopian feel.

The acting is excellent and the story arc very interesting, so this film may well be as good as you have heard it is; just keep in mind that it's a slow burner.

The synopsis included above by GreenCine is far too detailed and gives away the majority of the movie. Given its relatively slow pace, you might need all those plot turns to keep you in it.

GreenCine Member Rating

(Average 8.18)
101 Votes
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Craig's Best Films of 2007 List
These were all the films I thought stood out in a strong '07; as they arrive on DVD I'll add to this list. Detailed opinions on each of these films can be found on my full list: 15 Best of 2007
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