Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Lives of Others, a film

I just watched an incredible film.

The night before that however, I watched Simon Pegg in "Paul". What a riot that was, it was a film I enjoyed very much. I saw the unrated version which was more entertaining as an adult, it's nice to hear the characters talk more naturally, swear words intact, plus, sometimes they were funny with their placement. But I'll admit it was a little off putting at times as the film had a feel more of a family movie, but then there'd be the expletive here and there which first felt out of place, then typically cracked me up.

I followed that film up the next night with 2007's, Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others). What a great film. With beautiful music, a well directed, well acted cast, a great script, it was deftly tuned to be a near masterpiece, if not so.

I won't go into depth about this film as I don't want to repeat what others have already covered or to give away anything from the film, so I'll try to talk around that.

This is one of those gems that you search through many films to find. It is poignant, subtle. I love subtle films, even some films that try to be subtle, or their subtlty is over played but obvious that it was the point, though I don't like getting slugged over the head with it. Films like Amadeus, Dangerous Liaison and now, The Lives of Others.

Just before the wall goes down and the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1980s, the German Democratic Republic (GDR), has everyone spying on or turning in anyone that even thinks wrong. It's like living in 1984 by George Orwell, in a bloated, paranoid fascist state where abusing the people is more important than protecting them. Behind the "Iron Curtain" where the East German Stasi secret police, whose motto was, "Schild und Schwert der Partei" (Shield and Sword of the Party), had turned a once great nation into a pale shadow of Stalin's paranoid Communist State, where people either try not to think, not to think openly, or simply try to escape from the restrctive state where even thought is a crime, or commit suicide, thus becoming one of the uncounted.

As one Stasi official says, alluding to the unrealistic tenets of their life, "We don't "blacklist" here." When of course we all know, they do.

Putting a major playwright and his reknowned actress lover under survellience, the world is turned upside down. Misperceptions happen, changes grow inside, subversion begins and you come to believe that the Artist culture in a society is indeed where change begins, where the danger is, Especially, for a regime that is fearful more of its own people, than of any true threat to the people they claim to serve and protect. It points out how in a country and government like that, the abuses by those in power, shrivel their people's personalities just so they can survive because they know they have little to control in their own decisions and lives.

I will say this about a specific element in the film. Two of the Stasi are talking together. One describes a situation when dealing with "artist types". How to "break" them. He says that you keep them up for extended periods of time, and use various interrogation techniques, etc. But what stuck in my mind and keeps echoing, as it was supposed to, was his saying that after they let the artist go, guilty or not, this process makes it so they never produce their art again.

What a horrible statement to make; yet he found it entertaining to relish in sharing with his compatriot. There are chilling elements explored in this film, but it is all delievered through mental anguish in an environment of hopelessness and dispair. It is a very good warning to all those in "free" countries to beware their leaders falling into fascists ways of governing. America too, needs to take note for some of our changes over the past decade since 9/11 are truly concerning.

The German (once East German) actor Ulrich Mühe who plays the part of the main character Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler was by the Director of this film's thought, one of Germany's (and was East Germany's) greatest actor. After the fall of the Iron Curtain he got his Stasi documents and found that in his theater company, four individuals were placed there to spy on him. He found the names of who two of them were, but the other two were lost. He also found that for years, his wife and mother of his children, was also informing on him. That brings this film to much in the same situation as that of Casablanca, where many of those foreign actors in the film had only recently escaped from WWII in Europe and felt deeply much of what their roles required.

This is in many ways, a great and amazing film. Touching and painful to watch, but beautifully done.

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