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08/23/2007 Archived Entry: "Movie: The Lives of Others"

I JUST WATCHED The Lives of Others, the German film that beat out Pan's Labyrinth for best foreign-language film in this year's Oscars.

Wow. Though it's not in the visionary league of Pan's, it's a movie for freedom lovers, for sure.

East Germany, 1984; the fall of the Berlin Wall seems a universe away. For political and sexual reasons, the Stasi sets up 24-hour-a-day surveillance on a playwright, Georg Dreyman, and his beautiful, beloved actress-partner. Being watched -- or the fear of being watched, recorded, reported upon (perhaps by our closest friends and loved ones), and "detained" -- corrodes all lives and relationships, particularly in the always-suspect arts and the intellectual community. Captain Gerd Wiesler, the Stasi agent running the day-to-day spy operation, is a hard, by-the-book man with a bleak personal life. He begins distrusting Dreyman (as he distrusts everyone), but he also realizes -- and resents -- that the real purpose is to help a bigwig party official eliminate a sexual rival. As he watches this loving, sensuous, glowing couple with their artistic pursuits and their stifled creative hopes, he begins to change, and his loyalties to shift.

Reviews and the plot synopsis on the Amazon link (above) tell more than I could say. But there's one exchange at the very beginning of the film that shows the tenor of the times so well.

We're in a "temporary detention center" that looks like a high-security prison. A prisoner is brought into an interrogation room. The dialog begins something like this:

Prisoner: Why am I here? I haven't done anything wrong!

Interrogator: Prisoner 226, surely you don't believe the German Democratic Republic would arrest anyone arbitrarily, without cause? ... Why, merely believing such a ridiculous thing would be grounds for your imprisonment.

Posted by Claire @ 02:16 PM CST

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