The most purely emotional experience I have had in a cinema this year was watching the delightful documentary Young @ Heart during the Film Festival. It’s a life-affirming (and by its very nature death-affirming too) portrait of a group of Massachusetts senior citizen choristers who tour the world with a programme of (often consciously ironic) rock and pop classics and it starts out like the quirky British tv programme it was originally intended to be. But then these remarkable, loveable, buoyant characters take control and by the time they get to Dylan’s Forever Young, I may as well have been a puddle on the floor of the cinema. Young at Heart is so successful I even fell in love with Coldplay for about five minutes. It’s that good.
In the amusingly mis-named German Democratic Republic, during the last years before the Berlin Wall fell and Germany was re-unified, the people were monitored for idealogical and political purity by the Stasi, or Secret Police. Astonishingly, there were 90,000 officers in the Stasi and hundreds of thousands more were paid informants, keeping themselves out of jail or settling old scores. A deeply paranoid political élite learnt its philosophies and its practice from the Nazis they had overthrown and an ill-timed joke could see the end of a career or the start of a spell in solitary confinement.
The awfulness and absurdity of the situation is brilliantly painted in Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s thriller The Lives of Others, the best Foreign Film Oscar-winner in years. Set in the late 1980’s, as even the most loyal of state servants and patriots are losing their faith, state-sanctioned playwright Dreyman, played by Sebastian Koch, is shaken by the suicide of his black-listed director, Jerska. He writes an article on suicide statistics in the GDR to be smuggled out to the West, not realising that his flat is being monitored 24/7 by the Stasi. Luckily, his main voyeur (Wiesler, a lovely performance by Ulrich Mühe) is having complex second thoughts of his own.