Tuesday, 20 August 2013

The Lives of Others (2006) - ★★★★★

Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Writer: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Stars: Ulrich Muhe, Sebastian Koch, Martina Gedeck, Ulrich Tukur, Thomas Thieme, Hans-Uwe Bauer

The Lives of Others is one of the most interesting films I've ever seen. Not so much because of the story, but because of the character Ulrich Muhe plays. Muhe's performance is remarkable, no, it's masterful. The 'Sonata for a Good Man' will always remind me of him. I was riveted by this film. It was sometimes suspenseful, sometimes very touching, and always brilliant. 2006 was a good year for foreign films, and this film would be my second favourite of the year. My favourite being Pan's Labyrinth. I didn't know what to expect when I bought The Lives of Others, but after watching it, I can safely say that it's a pure masterpiece of cinema.

In 1984 Berlin, an agent of the secret police, Wiesler (Ulrich Muhe), is assigned to spy on a writer and his girlfriend. Wiesler is one of the best interrogators and surveillance agents in Germany, and he very quickly finds out that the writer, Georg (Sebastian Koch), opposes the Stasi. The more he gets to know the people he's spying on, the more he becomes absorbed by their lives. He starts to change as a person, and begins helping the two oppose the Stasi without anybody knowing.

Martina Gedeck and Sebastian Koch
What I find so absorbing about this film is the strange man that is Wiesler. He's clearly a lonely person, but someone who is tough as nails when it concerns his job. In fact, he has a kind of 'Nazi' vibe to him in the beginning. As the story progresses, we start seeing a more human side to Wiesler. He starts helping George and his girlfriend Christa-Maria (Martina Gedeck), and we never truly know why. Could it be because he's grown fond of them as people, or is it because he has realised that spying on people is wrong? Or has he changed his view on the Stasi regime completely? That's one aspect that sucked me into the story. What's more incredible to me is the way Ulrich Muhe was able to display his characters evolution into a 'good man.'

Another question is whether or not Wiesler became a good man whilst spying on the couple, or if he was always a good man that believed in what he was doing. I believe the latter is the reason, because as the writer revealed more about what it's like to be attacked by the Stasi, Wiesler started to see why his spying on them is wrong on many levels. You can pinpoint the exact moment where his beliefs changed, and then see how his character evolves into helping the two people he's spying on. Ulrich Muhe's performance would have to be one of my all time favourites in the history of cinema. It was subtle, yet it told us about the conflict that was battling within his mind. The scene where he listens to 'Sonata for a Good Man' gave me chills. I'd give him the award for Best Performance by an Actor in 2006.

The supporting performances were fantastic too. Particularly Martina Gedeck as Christa-Maria. She really shined in the scene where Ulrich Muhe spoke to her in the cafe. She lured me into thinking she would do anything for the love of her life, then surprised me in the end. Sebastian Koch gave a fine performance too, playing a tender and intellectual man.

The reason this film gets such a high score is because it's a perfectly crafted, intriguing movie. I couldn't fault the performances, the cinematography, the music, the screenplay, or the story. It's just one of those films that was made with precision and a lot of love. It ranks close to the likes of The Shawshank Redemption and Spirited Away, for they're in the category of 'faultless films' too. I was surprised at how moved and 'connected' I was to this film. I was deeply saddened to read that Ulrich Muhe died of stomach cancer the year after this film was made. He'll live on forever in The Lives of Others, for I think he gave one of the subtlest, most beautiful performances of all time.


  1. I feel the same way about The Lives of Others (and Spirited Away/Shawshank). The transformation is about as uplifting as it gets. The final line of dialogue is also perfect. It's worth embracing subtitles for films like this, and I would suggest it to anyone who is curious about foreign film.

    1. YES. It's one of those movies people should see before they condemn a film for having subtitles!