Directed by: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Written by:Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Starring: Martina Gedeck, Ulrich Muhe, Sebastian Koch, Ulrich Tukur, Thomas Thieme, Hans-Uwe Bauer
Released: March 29, 2007
Grade: A

The last two German films to be nominated for the best foreign language picture Oscar were Downfall (in 2005) and Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (in 2006).  Both are set in World War II and both are terrific movies.  The Lives Of Others is another German film set in the past.  However it focuses on a different, but just as interesting, part of Germany’s history

Prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, a secret police organisation known as the Stasi helped control East Germany.  Through an army of informants (whose identity was kept hidden) they kept files on roughly one-third of the entire population.  They did this by tapping phone lines, reading mail and bugging buildings.  The Stasi’s used its information to suppress anyone who was against the socialist government.

Georg Dreyman (Koch) is a popular playwright living in East Germany.  Artists are often suspected as being “subversive” but Dreyman’s has not attracted the Stasi’s attention.  His plays portray the government in a positive light.  Dreyman’s lead actress and long-time partner is Christa-Maria Sieland (Gedeck).  The pair live in a nice, well-to-do apartment.

Given her high profile, Christa-Maria’s beauty has caught the attention of a government official, Minister Bruno Hempf (Thieme).  The two start having an affair but it is not of Christa-Maria’s doing.  She deplores Hempf but knows there will be serious ramifications if she turns his affections down.  He is a very powerful man.

As Hempf’s affections grow, he decides that he wants Christa-Maria to himself.  He demands that Dreyman be put under surveillance with the hope of finding a reason to convict him of something.  Gerd Wiesler (Muhe) has been put in charge of the operation.  Now that the home has been bugged, Wiesler job is to listen to every conversation and report in on a daily basis.

I could continue but there are a few plot developments that I will let you discover for yourself.  The story itself is fascinating.  It’s amazing to think that this was actually happening in Germany less than 20 years ago.  It is more than just a history lesson though.  There is a “realness” to all the characters and you will become emotionally invested in their fate.  The ending is brilliant and the lose ends are tied in a fulfilling manner.

The Lives Of Others has been showered with praise since it premiered at the 2006 Berlin Film Festival.  It won the European Film Award for best film and it upset Pan’s Labyrinth to win the Oscar for best foreign language film.  The acclaim is well deserved.