ARCHIVE REVIEW: The Lives of Others

The Lives of Others
Directed by: Florian Henckel von Donnersmark
Written by: Florian Henckel von Donnersmark (screenplay)
Starring: Ulrich Mühe, Martina Gedeck, Sebastian Koch, and Ulrich Tukur

Voyeurism, as it turns out, is one of the leading topplers of totalitarianism.  At least that’s what Florian Henckel von Donnersmark suggests in his Oscar-winning foreign drama The Lives of Others.

The film tackles both of the aforementioned “-isms” with a formal technique that is amazing from a first-time director.  Suspense fills almost every bleakly muted frame, generated not by constant cutting but by focusing on actor’s facial expressions and the many twists of the story.  Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe), an interrogator in East Berlin circa 1984 (yes, like the book) is tasked with listening in on the lives of a playwright (Sebastian Koch) and his actress muse (Martina Gedeck.)  At first, we see him interrogate an earlier subject with relish, and the film cuts to him as an instructor lecturing eager students with a recorded copy of the same interrogation.

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