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german democratic republic

Review: The Lives of Others and three more...

By Cinema, Reviews

"The Lives of Others" posterIn 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.

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