Nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, this is a first-rate thriller that, like Bertolucci's The Conformist and Coppola's The Conversation, opts for character development over car chases. The place is East Berlin, the year is 1984, and it all begins with a simple surveillance assignment: Capt. Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe in a restrained, yet deeply felt performance), a Stasi officer and a specialist in this kind of thing, has been assigned to keep an eye on Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch, Black Book), a respected playwright, and his actress girlfriend, Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck, Mostly Martha). Though Dreyman is known to associate with the occasional dissident, like blacklisted director Albert Jerska (Volkmar Kleinert), his record is spotless. Everything changes when Wiesler discovers that Minister Hempf (Thomas Thieme) has an ulterior motive in spying on this seemingly upright citizen. In other words, it's personal, and Wiesler's sympathies shift from the government to its people--or at least to this one particular person. That would be risky enough, but then Wiesler uses his privileged position to affect a change in Dreyman's life. The God-like move he makes may be minor and untraceable, but it will have major consequences for all concerned, including Wiesler himself. Writer/director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck starts with a simple premise that becomes more complicated and emotionally involving as his assured debut unfolds. Though three epilogues is, arguably, two too many, The Lives of Others is always elegant, never confusing. It's class with feeling. --Kathleen C. Fennessy
Beyond The Lives of Others Stills from The Lives of Others (click for larger image)
This critically-acclaimed, Oscar(r)-winning film (Best Foreign Language Film, 2006) is the erotic, emotionally-charged experience Lisa Schwarzbaum (Entertainment Weekly) calls "a nail-biter of a thriller!" Before the collapse of the Berlin Wall, East Germany's population was closely monitored by the State Secret Police (Stasi). Only a few citizens above suspicion, like renowned pro-Socialist playwright Georg Dreyman, were permitted to lead private lives. But when a corrupt government official falls for Georg's stunning actress-girlfriend, Christa, an ambitious Stasi policeman is ordered to bug the writer's apartment to gain incriminating evidence against the rival. Now, what the officer discovers is about to dramatically change their lives - as well as his - in this seductive political thriller Peter Travers (Rolling Stone) proclaims is "the best kind of movie: one you can't get out of your head."