Magnitude 9, Intensity 8 in Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s Lives of Others (2006) October 23, 2007Posted by Richard Bolisay in Cine Europa, European Films.
Original Title: Das Leben der Anderen
Written and directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Cast: Ulrich Mühe, Martina Gedeck, Sebastian Koch
2006 Oscar Winner for Best Foreign Language Film
A film that defies seismic meters, The Lives of Others feels like an earthquake — a sudden release of energy that accumulated through time, the end of all abstinence, a massive cause of displacement that promises its return for indeterminable years. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s debut work carries us into disbelief and dementia, a period of wakefulness in dreams, and leaves us nothing to give but admiration. The applause soon before the credits rolled is very much deserved.
Its seriousness is frightening yet it manages to pull off its occasional humor, and at times even its humor is scary. The atmosphere exudes a breath of terror: one can feel the political turmoil, the tumultuous plight of the characters without seeing it. Donnersmarck masters the language of the unseen — the words, the music, the plot devices — and carefully weaves its story into a thrilling yet rewarding series of events that followed Christa-Maria’s treachery into a finality that grieves with kindness and reciprocation.
The controversy that surrounds the film prior to its release in Germany — the libel suits, the said unrealistic portrait of East Germany, and “making the Stasi man into a hero” — just adds to its vitality. Its emotional texture, as one writer puts it, is layered in such a way that it evokes universality, that these events are not alien to us, to our emotions, and to our sensibilities. In fact when Wiesler enters Dreyman’s apartment with the State Security team to install surveillance microphones and cameras, I shriek at the idea on how GMA got wiretapped, unknowingly, or if it is even possible for our state-sponsored departments to do that. We might not even need one, as big-time crooks and shameless alligators are doing all their crimes comfortably, without guilt or apprehension, in a state of evil grace. The grimness of a totalitarian government seeps through in every vein of this film: its force to let everyone succumb to its will and its dedication to power are deafening. In a brilliant scene when Dreyman walks out of a stage play and sees the Minister — “It’s a pity that a man like you once ruled a country” — and in return, he mocks, in a bleak wing of despair, the society that they have been into, in total rejection of the regime and separation, is this what they really want?
Ulrich Mühe deserves every praise he receives for his role as Stasi agent HGW XX/7: his stature, his voice that demands authority when he interrogates Christa about the typewriter that Dreyman used for the suicide article, writing her testimony as if he doesn’t know what she is saying, as if his pen has a life of its own and a conviction of a boar, his unblinking eyes filled with remorse, his threatening silence, and when he gets demoted as a mailman we weep in compassion, but as the film ends with a freeze frame of him standing in a bookshop saying that the book need not be giftwrapped because it’s for him, a sudden train of thought rushes through, while my heart still enjoys its stay in my throat: nothing could be more rewarding than that. * * * *