Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Lives of Others

2006, Germany, directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (original title: Das Leben der anderen)
Although Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's first feature reveals him to be a confident and sometimes compelling filmmaker, Das Leben der anderen succeeds much better as an evocation of the increasingly bizarre world of East Germany in the 1980s than it does as a human drama. Von Donnersmarck's sense of the absurdity of the state security apparatus is well-drawn and convincing, but there's an odd lack of emotional involvement with his main characters, despite the dramatic circumstances in which they find themselves, and the voyeuristic position in which the audience is cast. There's also an almost unforgivably insulting ending which implies that the director is, as much as anything, auditioning for Hollywood, wrapping things up with a brief coda that places altogether more faith in humanity than 40 years of the German Democratic Republic might have taught.

However, even where the emotional frisson is lacking, the film functions as an incisive examination of one of the key reasons behind the demise of the East German state, that is, a suffocating paranoia that could not be sustained as everyone turned on everyone else. Von Donnersmarck is also blessed with numerous fine performances, including particularly Ulrich Mühe as the sympathetic Stasi agent at the heart of the story, and Sebastian Koch as the object of his surveillance, while Charly Hübner, as Mühe's somewhat roly-poly assistant, supplies an splendidly authentic Berlin accent for those interested in the peculiarities of German.

1 comment:

Pacze Moj said...

Some things bothered me about this film. Like you, I think it's a confident debut, but it did lack the human drama. Perhaps I need another viewing, but I could not decipher why the Stasi agent acted the way he did. Obviously, a career agent like he was would have seen the same situation before, and would have ignored it (or he would not have been a career agent!), so why act now, what changed? There are also some interesting discussions making the rounds about this film's relationship with history...

But, I did like -- very much so -- the director's use of colours: the way the warm, brown rooms of the artist contrasts with the cold, grey -- always grey, like that wonderful coat! -- of the Stasi agent, above, listening, writing.


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