Watching: The lives of others

The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) is a German film telling a tale of repression and redemption in East Germany in the 1980s.

Georg Dreyman is a highly regarded playwright and loyal socialist who (perhaps unfortunately) is in love with a beautiful actress - Christa-Maria Sieland - who the Minister of Culture has a major thing for. Being a right bastard, the Minister calls on his connections in the much feared Stasi (the secret police) to dig up some dirt on Dreyman to put him out of the picture.

This job falls to the talented and loyal Hauptmann Wiesler, who gets to know the couple well in the course of his surveillance of them.

(I won't go into further detail here but I'm sure you can see we have the beginnings of an interesting, chilling and yet beautiful tale)

Here's the trailer.

I've had a bit of a fascination with East Germany for a while now - as the communist state which I feel I can most closely relate to on a cultural level, it's interesting to get some kind of idea of what life might have been like in a place removed from corporate domination and materialism gone mad. (Not to say that what it was replaced with worked any better given the need to use fear and coercion to keep it running of course).

The idea of privacy and particularly of losing it to a faceless and repressive state system has come to the fore in recent years, particularly as a result of the war against terror which has seen the creeping up of more and more invasive and repressive state powers in the name of 'security' and the slow erosion of long held principles of law.

Anti-"sedition" laws (which in essence can criminalise making disparaging remarks about the Government or monarchy), extensions on surveillance powers and the ability to hold 'suspects' for extended periods of time without charge and making it a criminal offence to tell anyone (even family) where you were or why you were there when you are released point to a potentially frightening future.

These haven't been turned on the general population yet, for the most part, however the mere fact that they are available to the powers that be is somewhat chilling should these powers fall into the wrong hands.

The Lives of Others takes us directly into a world just like this - though it was interesting to see at times how systematic and bureaucratic such a system might be. After the Stasi agents methodically search Georg's apartment, cutting open cushions and such, the lead officer hands him a card telling him that "In the unlikely event that we have caused any damage, you are entitled to put in a claim for compensation".

Performances across the board are compelling (the Minister is particularly creepy and Ulrich Muhe puts so much across with just a stare), the music and photography is beautifully bleak and while the story leans a little toward the classy Hollywood drama at times, it's gripping and moving.

I've read complaints that it makes the Stasi guy too sympathetic and that things were never like that and there are no documented accounts of such things - these people seem to be missing the point. At it's heart, it's a story about people that happens to be set in East Germany in the 1980s. The time and location are pivotal parts of the film but it's still mainly about people.

Goodbye Lenin! it's not - it's pretty much the other side of that coin - but it still holds a similar level of fascination. (Goodbye Lenin! is a great film in it's own right but it's a comedy and doesn't really touch on the dark side of things)

This is well worth a look.