Movie of the Week: The Lives of Others (2006)

Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck directs Martina Gedeck, Ulrich Muhe and Sebastian Koch in this German period political drama about a Stasi surveillance expert who begins to obsess over the actress and dramatist whose lives he is assigned to investigate.

The observer effect… seeing is changing. Even if here the changes most readily occur in the investigator himself. Being one floorboard above all this art, love and humanity opens him to the possibility that the state he works unwaveringly for might not have an individual‘s happiness at heart. von Donnersmarck’s perfectly crafted drama has so many moments of cinematic poetry and images repeated from different angles that it can feel overwhelmingly smarter than you or I. In a good way. My favourite I noticed for the first time this showing is how the playwright and actress’ home becomes a drama we are watching like theatre and how HGW XX/7 essentially become both audience and director for their little play… even arranging cues from his little backstage booth. This is a work of a consummate cinematic artist who has interrogated every image, line, interaction, casting and edit before committing it the screen. And despite being laboured in its construction, it never feels pretentious or overly showy. Like our grey little spy we get swept in the lives of others hoping for a reprieve or a glimmer of grace. Yet the “mighty wheel” of the GDR turns mercilessly, no matter what little swells of personal freedom spring up in each lead. The true irony of setting this in 1984 is not the cute Orwell parallel but that we the viewer know that the communist state is due for an imminent collapse. These characters only need to hold out five more years and their acts of rebellion and their tortuous consequences will no longer feel like life sentences. I instantly loved this on release and am kicking myself it took my 15 further years to revisit such an indisputable modern classic. Whenever we make it to Berlin we go to the Stasi museum which is used here as non-fictional location. Both that institution and this movie offer a fascinating insight into a regime that existed in our lifetime. Though obviously Koch and Gedeck mean the movie is a far sexier and meatier experience than walking around looking at exhibits.


Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here

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