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aka - Leben der Anderen, Das
Germany 2007
Directed by
Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
132 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bruce Paterson
3.5 stars

The Lives Of Others

Synopsis: In 1984 East Berlin, a dedicated Stasi secret police surveillance expert finds his loyalties shifting as he is immersed in the lives of others, an actress and a playwright.

A story of one man living through the lives of others, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's film, winner of the 2007 Foreign Language Film Oscar is an intimate account of the fear that controlled the German Democratic Republic prior to re-unification in 1989. Surveillance was the means by which the Republic was documented in meticulous detail, reducing the humanity of its population to dry notations.

9.30pm: Captain Weisler attends new play by playwright Georg Dreyman. Capt Weisler is accompanied by superior officer, Oberstleutnant Anton Grubitz.

9.35pm: The Minister for Culture instructs Grubitz and Weisler to place Dreyman under surveillance.

9.45pm: Dreyman’s lover, the actress Christa-Maria is driven home. Her clothes are in disarray as she steps out of the Minister’s car. Prob. non-consensual sexual intercourse.


Weisler (Ulrich Mühe), the surveillance expert at the centre of hte story, is a well-used tool of the State. He is small, contained, loyal and drably inconspicuous, yet intimidatingly relentless in the interrogation cells of the Stasi secret police. But his initial, unreflective desire to monitor the possibly subversive playwright turns into something else. At the end of the long cable of his surveillance headphones, he finds himself a ghostly presence in the home of Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) and Christa-Maria (Martina Gedeck). Drawn into their lives, his loyalties to the State begin to crumble.

As Christa-Maria becomes entangled deeper with the unwanted attentions of the odious Minister and Dreyman is forced to question the artistic censorship of the State, subversion begins to brew in the Dreyman apartment. As Dreyman takes elaborate steps to secretly publish an exposé of the regime without it being traced back to him, Captain Weisler must face the question whether to report him – and if not, how to conceal the truth from the superiors who are beginning to distrust him. The story’s tension continues to ratchet up, only resolving, well after the fall of the Berlin wall when all their lives have irrevocably changed.

The film’s Orwellian themes are so well visually and emotionally realised that the somewhat bare characterization and rather sentimental coda can be overlooked. As the frighteningly farcical operations of the Republic’s secret police unfold, a silent question lingers: to what extent have the same evils of fear and secrecy invaded our modern-day ‘democratic republics’. As Dreyman wonders, how is it that such men as these could come to lead our countries?




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