The Lives of Others

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The Lives of Others, being Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s first feature film, set in eastern Berlin, 1984; The Lives of Others follows a member of the Stasi, Captain Gerd Wiesler.  Wiesler is a ‘corrupt’ officer who goes beyond his measure to protect the group of play writers who are being monitored by the Stasi after their change in loyalty from the East Berlin government.   Wiesler is monitoring Georg Dreyman and his girlfriend who happens to be a famous actress, whose flat has been bugged, installed in the attic of their apartment block is the surveillance systems where Wiesler stays.

Das Leben der Anderen (original title) is seen as a milestone in contemporary German cinema; not only did it have millions of people eager to watch it worldwide, is it critically acclaimed but it also received the motion picture award for Best Foreign Film of 2006.   Not only did these alone make this film a huge his for German cinema, but also the first film to treat the former GDRs history as a topical and serious issue similarly to Goodbye Lenin! (2003) and Sonnenallee (1999) but instead touches more on what life was like under the communist Dictatorship.      Donnersmark centres the film around the life of the Stasi officers, rather than those who are under their control; this is almost radical in terms of contemporary German cinema.   The film in aspects addresses the points in history of berlin that are almost ‘embarrassing’ to German society now; the harsh regime that took place in east berlin, almost mimicking certain aspects of the Nazi regime, or at least the extreme lengths that were met to ensure the controlling nature of both were met.

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Visually representing the Stasi, or the secret police was highly regarded for its accuracy, many parts of the film do not correspond with what is documented as the behaviour of the ‘typical’ Stasi officer.  Mainly through Wiesler’s portrayal of being the ‘jack of all trades’ character; not accurate of the rank in officer he is.   We see Wiesler engaging in training, analysis, interrogation, technical installations, and routine surveillance. In reality in a highly bureaucratic security system the labour would appointed to individuals alone with little to no assistance in other departments.   Adding to this in the GHI bulletin from fall 2007, Stephen Pfaff, states that Wieslers participation in all the activities for the state security would have “denied him so much control over the dreyman case” (Pfaff, 2007).   Another inaccuracy is that of the tactics that Wiesler taught to students, they were not seen out of the 1970’s and not in 1984.

Aside from the inaccuracy at times, Das Leben den Anderen, portrays the harsh, intrusive reality that was 1980’s East Berlin, the imagery of the film is highly accurate to the time, depicting the bland and communist state that it was.   It acts as a tool for Germany to reflect upon the cold war, and not in the comical, light hearted way that was previously so popular in German contemporary cinema prior to this.

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