Many movie goers were surprised this last spring when the favorite film of may, Pan’s Labyrinth was passed over for the Oscar for Best Foreign Film. It had already won 3 Oscars and seemed a shoe-in for Best Picture. But the Oscar when to a German film, The Lives of Others.The film recently arrived on DVD in the US and a viewing of it demonstrates why it was given the Oscar. It is a powerful film about the power of art to change lives. Set in East Berlin in the 1980’s, the film follows an East German Secret Policeman as he is assigned to listen in to the life of a celebrated playwright.
The writer has been allowed a measure of freedom because of his sympathy to the party line. That all changes when a high-placed government official decides he wants to take the playwright’s girlfriend for himself. Their apartment is bugged and the Secret Policeman, Wiesler, begins listening in on their lives.
Through the course of trying to find something to arrest them for, Wiesler begins to see how his own life is impoverished and empty. He becomes envious of the writer and his more subversive writer friends, yet protects them.
As the story unfolds, Wiesler finds his life transformed and finds himself in great danger. The movie’s ending is superb and I won’t go any further with a summary.
You must experience this film for yourself and be as changed as Wiesler. By all means check out the extras as you’ll discover the actor portraying Wiesler and the actor who portrays his boss were both the targets of East German police surveillance. They wanted to make this movie to show what it was really like. You won’t forget The Lives of Others.
(Ron’s reviews have also been posted at Wellspring.)