Hopefully, Academy members will rightfully award the Oscar tomorrow night for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year (2006) to 'The Lives of Others.' Writer/Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's debut stands head and shoulders not only over the other nominees, but also over all the nominees for Best Picture. That so-called 'best' list pales in comparison to the heights attained by von Donnersmarck's creation. It is a expertly-plotted, richly-told depiction of life under the dominion of the East German spying apparatus, the Stasi.
'Lives' tracks the Stasi's efforts to bug and disrupt the lives of writer Georg Dreyman (a striking Sebastian Koch) and his actress girlfriend Christa-Maria Sieland (the incomparable Martina Gedeck). Assigned to the case is Stasi agent, Gerd Wiesler, indelibly played by Ulrich Mühe. The reasons for spying on Dreyman and 'CSM' (as the Stasi calls her)? A Politburo minister has the hots for CSM. That's it. For that most personal of reasons, lives are ruined. A professional reviewer of 'Lives' really hit the nail on the head when he said that the movie turns on the fact that Weisler realizes he is spying into the life of a man who is 'vastly his moral superior.' That's it. You get propelled into Dreyman's life and you are struck immediately and permanently by his decency and the quality of his character. Over time, Weisler starts injecting himself into the proceedings. At that point, the sequence of events is irrevocably changed.
von Donnersmarck's movie is a continual series of one great scene after another. I thought perhaps it had reached its denouement with the fall of the Wall. But it keeps getting better. Dreyman requests his Stasi files. He begins to piece together the story and the role of Weisler.
'The Lives of Others' is 137 minutes of the best entertainment imaginable. Ulrich Mühe is an East German who himself was the target of Stasi oversight. For this film, he was awarded Best Actor at the 2006 European Film Awards. Is there a more just triumph than that?