Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Lives of Others

This is a GREAT movie. It won the Oscar for best foreign film this year, but that is not always a good predictor of great movies. This time, they got it right. The setting is Germany, a few years before the fall the Berlin Wall. We meet Wiesler, who is a dedicated officer in the secret police. He truly believes in the virtue of keeping tabs on citizens, and promotes and defends their surveillance tactics.

He takes charge of the surveillance of Georg Dreyman, a playwright who has shown no signs of subversion; this very fact alone seems to arouse the suspicion of Wiesler. He is surprised to learn that the minister of culture shares his suspicions.

His teams wires Dreyman's apartment, and Wiesler begins 24 hr. surveillance. He learns two things. First, he admires Dreyman, and grows to like him. He's a bit jealous of the love he and Christa-Maria Sieland, a well-known actress, share, but only in the sense that he wishes he had that kind of love; his life is so dedicated to protecting the state that he has no relationships aside from work. The second thing he learns is that the minister of culture is having an affair with Sieland. Sieland isn't really a willing participant. She feels like she has to do it to protect herself and her career. The minister ordered the surveillance of Dreyman as a fishing expedition to find an excuse to get him out of the way, so he could have Sieland to himself.

This combination, Wiesler's seeing Dreyman as a human, to be respected and admired, and his disgust and disillusionment at the minister's true motives, lead him to begin protecting Dreyman when he does, in fact, become involved in subversive activities. He falsifies his reports, creating elaborate fictions to fill in the times that Dreyman meets with co-conspirators. His interrogation of Christa-Maria was a terrific scene.

The ending is tragic, but the denouement makes it all worth the watch. This is tense, dramatic, complex storytelling at its best. You'll watch a lot of movies before you see one better than this. Bottom line, four stars.

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