The Lives of Others

I went to see the German film “The Lives of Others” today, at the Nova in Carlton.

Unfortunately, they managed to bugger up the first five or so minutes of the film, by showing it with the wrong aspect ratio, which pushed the subtitles off the bottom of the screen. They stopped it, when someone informed them of this, and then after about ten minutes, fixed it, but they didn’t rewind the film to the start and when asked to do so, claimed that they were unable to. Frankly, I don’t believe this.

That aside, “The Lives of Others” is an amazing film. Set in communist East Germany, it tells the story of a playwright and his actress girlfriend, who become the targets of constant surveillance by the paranoid state’s secret service, the Stasi. It gives an insight into what life was like, living in a society where someone’s closest friend could be a spy, where everything one does or says is carefully scrutinised for hints of sedition – and how unchecked power can lead to victimisation.

The film even manages to give a measure of humanity to some of the Stasi’s agents; it reminded me of the sign in the Mauermuseum, near Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, that thanked the many borderguards on the Berlin Wall who intentionally aimed badly.

I thoroughly recommend seeing it, if you get the opportunity. Compulsory viewing for Cold War tragics like me, and still a damned good thriller, even if you’re not.

I have one further comment, but there’s a slight spoiler in it, so I’ve put it over the fold … (click on the entry’s URL to see the rest of this comment)

I was particularly moved by one of the scenes towards the end of the film when, after the two Germanies had reunited, the lead character has a chance meeting with the former GDR Minister who had requested the Stasi surveillance. I’ve long wondered just how the people who were responsible for the Cold War era dictatorships of eastern Europe can live with themselves, given that many are still alive, and still free, privileges that they rarely extended to their opponents.

I’m impressed that the writer of the film can keep himself civil enough to treat them merely with derision, and not wanting outright revenge. I’m not sure that I could be so charitable.

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