The Lives of Others

Last night I saw The Lives of others, the much acclaimed debut feature film of Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. Maybe because of the last vestiges of jet lag I found all the preceeding adverts and trailers boring and tiring so that by the time the film started I was already flagging. It played in a packed screen 1 at the cambridge picturehouse i.e. lots of people.

Its a good film, very plot and character driven, exploring the reign of the Stazi, state security surveillance in former East Germany during the 1980s before the wall came down in 1989, the year of my older son’s birth. The plot centres around a writer and his girlfriend (who is signalled to be sensuous in virtually everyshot). The real focus is around one Stazi surveillance expert who is detailed to listen in on their bugged flat and record any incidents of transgression on a nice old manual typewriter in the block’s attic (echoing Casablanca’s radical idealist couple, the operation is called ‘operation Lazlo’). Like Gene Hackman in The Conversation, the interloper, Weisler, becomes drawn into the values and lives of the couple, and eventually sabotages the Stazi’s final plan to arrest him. Finally we see him in post-reunion Germany but I won’t say too much. The best and most poetic moments for me are when we see Weisler reading from a Brecht volume that he has stollen from the writer’s flat, and later see him moved to tear’s by the writer’s playing of Beethoven (I think) on his piano after a director friend has committed suicide. In a largely plot driven film, I found there was little poetry and economy and sometimes things felt rather laborious. However, overall this was a moving film and probably worth seeing.