Friday, 12 October 2007

The Lives Of Others

When my girlfriend pestered me to watch a German language film recently I was understandably pessimistic. Anyone who watched any sit-com during the 90’s may have seen this typically dreaded scenario occur several times before, where the reluctant boyfriend is forced to watch a tedious film to keep the peace. Unfortunately for me my other half is German, and therefore deemed it important that I shared in her suffering.

We sat down to watch a film called The Lives Of Others. It follows the life of a Stasi Officer monitoring the cultural scene of East Berlin in 1984. Ulrich Mühe plays the role of Gerd Wiesler, a Stasi Hauptmann or Captain. His idealistic and avid support of the communist regime makes him an ideal candidate to spy on playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch), who, Wiesler is told, is suspected of Western sympathies.

Having forgotten to turn the subtitles on for the first 10 minutes I could’ve been forgiven for not knowing what was happening. Predictably, Gerd Wiesler provided me with enough clues using his miserable German appearance alone. His house, his clothes, even his skin was grey. He wandered around a bleak looking East Germany trying his hardest to look incapable of emotion. For all I knew the first 10 minutes could’ve been a series of jokes and expletives that Gerd Wiesler shrugged off without response. There would be 127 minutes more of this...

The time passed by quicker than I had anticipated. There was no sign of the stereotypical efficiency that had gripped the early parts of the film. Wiesler became attached to following the life of Georg Dreyman, the playwright, and his girlfriend, actress Christa-Maria (Martina Gedeck). He covered their apartment in microphones and listened in on their lives.

From the information he gathered Wiesler discovered a corrupt party Minister who was blackmailing Christa-Maria for sex. The Minister had threatened to arrest Dreyman and have Christa-Maria 'blacklisted'. Upon learning this Wiesler’s motivation was destroyed. This caused him to become increasingly emotive, displaying signs of weakness and more specifically loneliness. Wiesler's loyalty to the Stasi began to diminish.

Jokes were made and even comedic characters were introduced as the film went on, but the storyline remained solemn. The circumstances that surrounded Wiesler discovering the corruption were both tragic and enlightening, as he became immersed in the world of Dreyman and Christa-Maria. We, the audience, had been on the journey with him (Wiesler) without realizing, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

As the film reached its conclusion a series of events occurred that were both clever and unexpected. It’s impossible to explain the end without it being spoiled, but my girlfriend was crying and I got ‘something in my eye’. The tears were tinged with both sadness and joy, as the film proved to have been an excellent choice after all. Perhaps I'll greet the next foreign language film with a little more optimism.

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