Writer/Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Running time: 137 mins (approx)
Certification (UK): 15
UK Release date: 13th April 2007
Watched on Sky+ Sunday 14th August 2011.
PLEASE NOTE: THERE MAY BE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW.
I remember when this came out it got quite a lot of critical acclaim. Of course it never made it to a cinema near me and so when it came up in the TV listings it became a ‘must see’ for me. I’m really glad I saw it, it’s somewhat different to what I was expecting (in a good way). I know there are a few out there that are afraid of subtitles, so I should tell you that yes, it’s in German with subtitles. For me, this isn’t a problem, but with a long film (as this is), I find I sometimes have to take a break to rest the brain for a few minutes. I found it to be a really engaging drama that has some truly powerful scenes and some great performances. Here’s a brief summary before I give you my thoughts.
It is East Germany in 1984, five years before the Berlin wall would fall. The East German people are constantly watched by the secret police, The Stasi. Anyone deemed to have strayed from the party line was arrested and interrogated. They could even end up in jail. When playwright, Georg Dreyman comes under the spotlight of the Stasi, at the behest of party official, Minister Bruno Hempf, Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler is assigned the case. Dreyman’s apartment is bugged and Wiesler begins to listen to the comings and goings in the flat. Dreyman lives with his girlfriend, actress, Christa-Maria Sieland, who has a big part to play in the events that unfold. As time goes by, Wiesler begins to empathise with those he’s listening to. He realises that not everything has to be reported, to the extent that he even scales down the operation so he alone reports on the couple. He uses this position to protect them when Dreyman begins to do things the party really wouldn’t like. I will leave my summary here so as not to be subjected to a 48 hour interrogation by them Spoiler Police.
This is a very well made film, although I did find the surroundings very stark, but then again, I guess that’s just realism. Great performances all round, particularly from Ulrich Mühe who played the rather serious Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler with great dignity. I thought Sebastian Koch as Georg Dreyman and Martina Gedeck as Christa-Maria Sieland were both superb. Ulrich Tukur did a good job as Wiesler’s boss, Oberstleutnant Anton Grubitz, as did Thomas Thieme as the loathsome Minister Bruno Hempf.
I was surprised how much emotion was brought out both in, and by, this film. In the end it becomes a very heart-warming story. The beginning, on the other hand, I found really hard to follow, but once it settled down it was much easier. It has a slow, deliberate pace, but I didn’t find it a chore to watch. I did find it was a little long though, but the extra scenes at the end are a real pay-off. So, if you’re not scared of subtitles, and you can spare 137 minutes, then this one comes highly RECOMMENDED.
My Score: 8.5/10.
IMDb Score: 8.5/10 (based on 93,806 votes when this review was written).
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93/100 (based on 150 reviews counted when this review was written).
Official Site: http://www.sonyclassics.com/thelivesofothers/