#55: The Lives Of Others (2006)

When and how did I watch this?

January 18th, 2017, on Amazon Instant Video.

Had I seen this film already?


What did I know about the movie before watching it?

German film taking place in the late Cold War. Like other foreign films on the list, it won tons of awards nationwide.

What do I know about it now?

The descriptions I read while renting the film – presumably the Roku and Amazon summaries – provided conflicting takes. One described an “erotic” film of a couple having their lives under constant surveillance, and the other presented a story of an East German officer swept up into the humanity the people his government kept under their thumb. It’s the communist bloc, so the premise is built upon a hunch that a Western sympathizer writer and his actress girlfriend are conspiring to publish condemning evidence of what the regime is really like. And we find out that their hunch is correct. Georg Dreyman, a prominent stage writer, is working with a few revolutionaries to reveal how the East seems to be provoking a spike in the suicide rate through their oppression, under the guise that they’re assembling to write a play celebrating the 40th anniversary of the GDR.  All along, loyalist Captain Weisler is listening upstairs, having tapped their whole apartment long ago. But Weisler starts to turn, lying on his reports to his superiors, and the captain and the writer’s paths cross in a memorable way. The film takes a while to develop, and the “erotic” part was completely unnecessary save one scene when a very vulnerable Sieland is in the shower sobbing – nothing is shown, unlike other scenes that appeared to exist to draw an audience. More on this later. After a slow setup, the tension swelled and I was sweating this one out until the end. All the leads perform brilliantly; the supporting Grubitz and Hempf roles are terrifying. There is no action, no running, no gun is fired, but there’s an underlying wonder if someone is going to get caught, and the unseen is a horrible scenario. I was fortunate enough to be at a young age at the conclusion of the Cold War and dissolution of Soviet Russia, but the film depicts it in discomforting fashion so I don’t have to have experienced it for myself.

What are some themes in the film?

Cold War/communist bloc, love and honesty, significance of art in culture

Did this affect me personally?

The film is certainly memorable.  A scene that appeared insignificant but proved to be poignant involved the two officers Grubitz and Weisler at lunch with some lowly government employees who crack jokes about the government officials. Grubitz overhears and makes one of them finish the joke, then tags on a couple of jokes as well. Everyone is laughing, and then Grubitz suddenly becomes deadly serious and demotes the employee on the spot. A rattling scene indeed.

Why is this ranked #56?

It’s certainly not American votes putting it on the list, though I would guess they would rate high based on quality alone. European viewers would gladly rate this one highly despite (or in spite of) its controversial nature, though I would guess existing communist regimes wouldn’t be allowed to see it anyway.

Did my wife watch/like it?

She didn’t see this one.

Would I watch it again?

Probably not.  It’s a heavy film.

Would I recommend it to a friend?

Like The Great Dictator, it’s a perspective we probably don’t know much about, and might be informative, if not already thrilling and entertaining.

Does it deserve to be on this list as one of the greatest films of all time?

Sure.  To address another topic briefly, it is somewhat disappointing to me that so many films in the top 100 resort to nudity to be relevant or artistic.  This one appears to do it as well, but it might be worth mentioning that European film tends to be more lax on the subject, which is a reflection of the culture.  To me, removing the pair of topless scenes probably would have enhanced the film, though this is merely this writer’s perspective. I felt that the same tension, intimacy, and Weisler’s loneliness could have been depicted with alternative means. Everything else about the film is spectacular, of course, and it looks like a heavy-hitter akin to contemporaries Gone Girl and There Will Be Blood.

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