International Film: The Lives of Others (2006)

In the first edition of new our International Film feature, Joe Holloran praises a masterpiece of German cinema

Joe Holloran
19th February 2018
The Lives of Others is the 2006 Oscar-winning debut film from German writer/director and two-time winner of the prestigious ‘Most German Name’ award: Florain Maria Georg Christian Graf Henckel von Donnersmark.

The film has continued to garner widespread critical acclaim from, but has yet to reach the heights of some other great European films in the domestic markets of the English speaking world.

This may have to more to do with the film’s setting than its fantastic story. I get it; the suggestion of sitting down to watch a film set in 1980s East Germany could be hard work. 

How wrong I was. The story centres around four main characters. Two dour Stasi (East Germany’s KGB) officers, Gerd Weisler (played fantastically by the late Ulrich Muhe) and his supervisor Lt. Grubitz. The latter assigns the former to monitor the work and home lives of loved-up playwrights Christa-Maria and her boyfriend, the allegedly anti-Communist satirist, Georg Dreyman.

The late Ulrich Muhe (1953-2007). Image:Wikimedia

The story then follows Weisler and his covert monitoring of the couple from his privileged position over the next six years, until the fall of Soviet power in Germany in 1990. The film is set thirty-years ago, but like all great works of art, it still resonates in today’s surveillance culture, where the line between state monitor and voyeur is blurred.

Having recently re-watched the film, it shocked me to learn that FMGCGHvD has only gone on to direct one other feature length film, 2010’s The Tourist. That film is so unbelievably awful that I’m not sure even the huge pay checks given out to its leads Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie was enough to bury the shame they must have felt at the premiere.

Well, the laws of physics dictate that every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and well, the pendulum swung back big time from the heady heights of 2006. So, maybe FMGCGHvD is destined to be a one hit wonder out of Germany, like ‘Axel F’ or ‘Mambo No.5’. Personally, I hope not, for The Lives of Others is for my money the best non-American thriller of the 21st century so far, able to grip both those who understand the film’s context and those who do not.

It does not matter. Whether you like historical dramas, political thrillers or even tragic romances, then be sure to hunt down The Lives of Others ASAP.

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