Monday, September 24, 2007


Movie of the week:


The biggest problem with being all-knowing - is that you know everything.

In the years between WWII and the fall of the Berlin Wall, the government of East Germany (GDR) maintained total control of the populace. They did this by - well, by knowing everything. If anybody, anywhere, at any time, spoke - or even thought - an anti-government sentiment, they were taken aside and given a good talking to …………….while hanging upside down ……..with their nethers attached to an electric prod …………and their head submerged in water. They knew everything because the secret police, the Stasi, spied on everybody. Not only did they have a workforce of more than 100,000 agents, but they also recruited your friends, co-workers, and neighbors to inform on you. And by “recruit” I mean they made them an offer they couldn’t refuse (in the Godfather sense).

Many many man-hours were spent watching and listening to often quite ordinary people, and with celebrated German efficiency, wrote it all down. Apparently, you can now go to where the records are kept and read your own file. I think this could potentially be a good thing for two reasons. First, let’s suppose that you can’t remember where you put that doily-shrouded pink tea cozy your Aunt Fredda gave you last Christmas, and she’s coming to visit on Friday. Go to the Records Library and look up the surveillance records on you and you realize, “That’s right. I used it to clean the floor under the tub and it was thrown out - on March 21, 1982 at 9:47 PM.” You look in the file box, “…and here it is!” The second good point is that it contains the makings of very many fascinating stories.

THE LIVES OF OTHERS revolves around its two (ok, maybe three) main characters in East Berlin around 1984. The first is Wiesler, the surveillance specialist. Wiesler is very good at what he does. He gives lectures and trains the younger agents on the finer points of eavesdropping, wiretapping, and especially interrogating and extracting confessions. He is naturally suspicious of just about everyone.

The other main character is Georg, the writer. Writers are natural suspects for everything from subversion to subterfuge, plus they get all the girls and nobody likes them. Wiesler especially suspects him, and when he is ordered to “find something” on him, he jumps at the chance. A lot of the remainder of the film is him eavesdropping on Georg’s apartment where he lives with his fiancé, Christa (she not quite as idealistic as Georg). Both men are loyal to the government. They each, in their own way, embrace the ideals of the GDR, while ignoring some of the unpleasant realities – it can all work if we all give it half a chance. How long will it be before each of them can no-long ignore how their ideals are being challenged. Wiesler, unable to find any evidence of un-GDR activity, can’t comprehend the possibility that his superiors had reasons other than the state’s well-being for getting rid of Georg. Both men, during the course of the story, will have to make tough decisions.

This is one hell of a riveting suspenseful outstanding film. You realize that the fate of a handful of people lies in the decisions made by one man – you really don’t know which way it’s going to go. It is intelligent, well-written, and well-acted. Yes, it’s in German and you’ll have to read subtitles – but so what? If you let that bother you, you’re going to miss a lot of great movies. I don’t want to give too many details, so I’ll just leave you with my top ten reasons to watch this film.

Top 10 Reasons to Watch THE LIVES OF OTHERS

1. It won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film this last go around.

2. The DVD was recalled in Germany because of comments made by the director on the commentary track about the role of real-life politicians in the secret police. Not really a reason to watch it, but I thought it was interesting just the same.

3. Scored a 93% on the tomatometer.

4. Makes the IMDB top 250, at #66 between Metropolis and Aliens.

5. The world in which this story takes place is one that most of us have only seen in movies, or read in books, or heard tell about in barrooms, or overheard hushed whispers down dark alleyways. It’s one that couldn’t possibly be real – yet it was. There isn’t a false note through the entire film. Stuff like this really happened quite often.

6. There is an interesting – and quite satisfying and unexpected twist at the end. I like those.

7. This is one of the most intensely suspenseful films I saw this year, but it’s not an action movie. It builds suspense and danger without car chases, guns being fired, or stuff blowing up.

8. It’s funny, but I’ve watched other films that take place in the same period of history, and in East Germany, but they were in English, and for some reason, it just didn’t seem right. This movie is right as rain! ………….so they say – whatever that means.

9. This happens more and more lately. I was sitting in an airport waiting for a flight, and a man sitting two seats away was talking on his cell phone to, I can only guess, was his girlfriend. For some inexplicable reason, he assumed no one could hear him – everybody with 20ft could hear him just fine. And not only that – some of us could hear her as well. It’s amazing the intimate things people will say to each other when they think no one is listening! We all looked at each other wagging our eyebrows (wink wink, nudge nudge) while the talkers were completely oblivious.

10. It has a positive uplifting life-affirming ending that’ll make feel all giggly inside. You’ll mentally look back to the start of the film and think, “How’d we end up here?”

Take a peek at THE LIVES OF OTHERS, you’ll feel better about yours.


view trailer


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