Monday, October 08, 2007

The Lives of Others

A while back I suggested to Anne Gracie that she might like the Danish film, After the Wedding -- and not just because Mads Mikkelsen starred in it.

It was a wonderful film -- moving, engrossing, well acted. And she liked it, too, and has been telling people about it as well.

And last week she told me I should see The Lives of Others or Das Leben der Anderen which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film. So I put it in my queue and it came late last week.

I had no expectations, no idea at all what it was about. So I just watched. And am I glad I did. It was a beautiful film, full of subtle nuance that existed alongside recurring leit motifs and wonderful believable characters.

I won't say it didn't have a plot, because that's not true. But the plot was so inextricably connected to who the characters were that the entire experience was seamless. The writing was tight and coherent and everything that was in the film needed to be there. Nothing was wasted, everything served more than one purpose.

It was set in 1984 in the German Democratic Republic -- not exactly the sort of venue you expect to look to for a film about humanity and hope.

And yet this film was about exactly that. It is about what happens to a man with Principles which have come at the expense of his humanity when he is forced by those very Principles to face the life and art of others living in a very different way from himself.

The character, Wiesler, a member of the East German stasi, is brought to life by the late Ulrich Muhe. (There is an umlaut over the U, but blogger -- at least mine -- objects to the umlaut and turns it into a A with 1/4 after it. So we're going without the umlaut until someone with more smarts than I have tells me how to do it right).

Assigned to oversee the spying on suspected subversive intellectuals, the detached Wiesler finds himself challenged and changed as he has to chronicle the lives of those he has under surveillance.

Muhe uses the smallest details and expressions to reveal Wiesler's growth and the gradual yet profound shift in his moral compass and to bring him from detachment to involvement without ever losing his personality along the way.

The Lives of Others offers food for thought, characters to explore and interpretations to discuss. It was the first full length feature film by German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, and I certainly hope it won't be his last.

He says it took him something like five years to write it, cast it, direct it, and get it to the screen. His meticulous attention to all those details shows in the film.

I hope getting the Oscar makes it easier to get distribution for whatever he tackles next. I'll definitely be watching.



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