The Lives of Others (2006, F.H. Donnersmarck)

Movie 1 of the Key Sunday Cinema Club. The post-movie discussion really helped, made the movie more memorable, made its intentions and plot twists more clear. Thanks, Katy!

In West Berlin: Wiesler (meticulous rule-follower) works for Grubitz (ambitious, opportunistic dullard) works for Minister Hempf (fat awful bureaucrat). Georg Dreyman is a theater writer, Christa-Maria Sieland is Georg’s actress girlfriend, Albert Jerska is his blacklisted former director, and Paul Hauser is their anti-gov’t buddy.

Wiesler bugs Dreyman’s apartment to find proof that Dreyman is an anti-gov agent so he can be locked up and Hempf can be free to sleep with Sieland. But ever-loyal Wiesler learns the motivations for his operation, as he learns that Dreyman is not anti-gov at all, but becomes anti-gov as a result of all the spying, sleeping around and other rude behavior. Wiesler becomes unhealthily engrossed in “the lives of others” (oooh) and is eventually demoted after Dreyman is provoked to write an anti-gov scribe in a West German paper, and Sieland throws herself into traffic, remorseful for having informed on her boyfriend. Tragedy! All of this proves that Germans can never be trusted.

A neat movie and a story well told. AV Club says “von Donnersmarck largely keeps the emotion at a distance, preferring to intellectualize the action rather than letting the audience fully feel what Mühe and Koch are going through… makes the meaning of every moment thuddingly clear, and doesn’t move on until he’s sure everyone’s gotten it.” At least they agree that the actors and story are great. True the film’s a little dry and long, but it’s also in the head of the very formal Stasi cop Wiesler, so it only seems appropriate. And it had a lot to say about a system that I previously knew little about, so I found its straightforwardness helpful, but I guess I’m not clamoring to see it again anytime soon.