The Lives of Others (2006) – Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

Sometimes I take forever to see a film.

The next big title recommendation in DK Canada’s The Movie Book is the German film, The Lives of Others. I remember when this one first came out on DVD, and a few people i worked with raved about it, but I could never bring myself to take it home and watch it.

My loss, as I think I have now found a new entry in my favorite movies of all time. To be clear, not my favorite, but a damned fine film.

The Lives of Others is set in East Germany during the mid-1980s when the Stasi, the German secret police watched and knew everything about the citizens of the German Democratic Republic.

At the film’s center is a Stasi agent, Wiesler (Ulrich Muhe) who is conducting in-depth surveillance on a playwright, Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) and his lover, the famed actor, Christa-Marie Sieland (Martina Gedeck).

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As Weisler listens to their lives, hears there passion, not just for each other, but for their art, for their existence, for wanting more, he finds himself drawn more and more into the events surrounding them, even as Georg flirts with things that could land him in prison, if not shot.

Weisler moves from sanctioned voyeur to an active participant as he is moved, in effect, by art, to want something more, to realize the ideals that he had held so close, and followed in his lonely, spartan life, aren’t enough.

He sees that his assignment is simply done at the whim of party officials who want something. Not for any great nationalistic ideals, simply for themselves. And he begins to understand that the structured reality that he has come to idolize, and represent isn’t enough, or right, and he begins to effect small changes.

But everything comes with a cost.

Beautifully shot, told and acted, the film is brilliant, and the fact that it is subtitled should not hold anyone back from seeing it. It’s not often that I can be completely taken in by a film, swept up completely in its storytelling, its performances, but this one did it, and did it so completely that the final frames of the film continue to have a lasting impact on me.

I think, on reflection, that it’s probably a good thing that I waited all these years to see it. If I had seen it when it first came out, I don’t think I would have appreciated it as much as I do now. Nor would I have welcomed it into the pantheon of my favorite films.

But that’s the great thing about DK Books’ The Movie Book, it keeps these classics in reserve, holding them, until you are ready to discover them. Pick up a copy today and discover a new to you classic, and maybe even a new favorite.

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