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Ossi Blues

  • Jun 30, 2011
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Donnersmarck's first feature is a film that should have been made years before: a critical, dramatic depiction of East German governmental repression from a personal perspective. The exhaustive research that Donnersmarck conducted whilst writing the screenplay yields a remarkably accurate portrayal of Stasi operations and the damage that the ubiquitous police force frequently inflicted on the citizenry of the GDR.

In one of his last roles, the late Mühe plays Hauptmann Wiesler, a Stasi educator and surveillance expert. He is a perfect role model for his peers: a meticulous, wholly competent specialist of the technology and techniques implemented to crush dissidence and nonconformity; a thoroughly educated, unquestioning ideologue who conforms to every aspect of state socialist dogma; a tireless agent in support of the overwhelming control that his government exerts over its' populace. He's also a shell of a man who lives an austere existence. Everything in Wiesler's orderly, bloodless life - even his indulgences with a familiar prostitute - is mechanical and ultimately unsatisfying.

Wiesler's life stands in stark contrast to that of Georg Dreyman (Koch), a celebrated author and playwright who enjoys enormous success both in his own country and "the west," circumstances that make him a slightly valuable, conspicuous anomaly. Dreyman is appreciated, accomplished and sociable. His relationship with Christa-Maria Sieland (Gedeck), an equally successful leading lady prominent in productions of his works, completes a life that couldn't be more fulfilling in the GDR. Essentially, he has everything that Wiesler doesn't.

At the premiere of one of Dreyman's plays, Wiesler indulges his professional habits by observing Dreyman and comes to the conclusion that, like so many vital, animated artists, he is a potential danger to the state. Neither man knows that Wiesler's suspicions serve as an accurate prediction of Dreyman's unprecedented rebellion, which is at long last triggered by the suicide of a blacklisted theater director (Kleinert) that the writer has long befriended. But as Wiesler conducts surveillance of Dreyman's home, he finds himself gradually, innately transformed by Dreyman and Sieland's artistic dynamism and romantic passion.

The subject matter of Donnersmarck's excellent script has permitted him to explore numerous personal and political themes in a variety of ways, and he does so with a considered refinement and dramatic severity. While this story could have taken a route that only examines the destructive potential of envy and isolation, Donnersmarck has chosen to create a film that celebrates the virtues of art, love and redemption in the historical context of a relatively recent phenomenon. The GDR has been the topic of many films, a handful of which are notable (Leander Haußmann's Sonnenallee is an especially amusing satirical portrayal of the defunct Communist state), but no film has provided such a penetrating, profound insight to the ugliest aspects of Stasi activities (or their consequences) as this one. Donnersmarck exhibits a satisfying appreciation for the obsessive fastidiousness, efficiency and regiment of the German character that's too often been misdirected in the service of the country's worst governments.

Of course, Donnersmarck's ambitions couldn't be realized without the extraordinary accomplishments of this movie's cast and crew. The performances of the veteran cast are exemplary; the story's array of demanding roles are played with naturalistic rigor. These portrayals are so affecting that they make the film's few dramatic contrivances (the most moving and clichéd of these is a surprising tragic death) entirely palatable. Hagen Bogdanski's beautiful cinematography lends a clarity and vibrancy to the proceedings that emphasizes the most colorful elements of an otherwise drab urban environment. The set decoration by Frank Noack is also impressive, providing the film with a detailed period authenticity.

The Lives Of Others has finally presented audiences with a serious cinematic depiction of one of the most harrowing periods of contemporary German history. If any of Donnersmarck's future projects are as compelling and profound as this, he's sure to enjoy a long and successful career.

All of the special features of Sony's DVD edition are dominated by the vocal presence of Donnersmarck, who voices commentary tracks for both the film and numerous alternate and deleted scenes, is highlighted in an extensive interview and is prominently featured in the disc's "making of" featurette. Donnersmarck exhibits a fluent command of English that one would sooner expect from a Dutchman than a German, and the balanced tone of his voice is perfect for narrative commentary, as it never seems overbearing. In all of these features, he conveys a wealth of insight and quite a lot of trivia concerning the film's production and his own script.

The deleted and alternate scenes provide few new insights pertaining to the movie's characters and scenarios, but they are impressive and of interest. Donnersmarck appreciates that his already exhaustive film would have been burdened by the addition of these extraneous (albeit effective) sequences.
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More The Lives of Others reviews
review by . July 01, 2011
A sad, thoughtful and redemptive film
"Did you know that there are just five types of artists? Your guy, Dreyman, is a Type 4, a 'hysterical anthropocentrist.' Can't bear being alone, always talking, needing friends. That type should never be brought to trial. They thrive on that. Temporary detention is the best way to deal with them. Complete isolation and no set release date. No human contact the whole time, not even with the guards. Good treatment, no harassment, no abuse, no scandals, nothing they could write about …
review by . October 06, 2010
   Auteur Florian Henckle von Donnersmarck created The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen). Surveillance plays a huge role in this film weighing in at a bit over 2 hours. From time to time, the film can be as stagnant as endless surveillance. However . . .      The film is set principally from the middle of 1984 through the beginning of 1985 in East Germany (DDR, or GDR depending on your language of acronym). The Lives of Others is the tale of one member of the …
review by . September 03, 2009
A brilliant film about life in East Berlin, under the GDR, German Democratic Republic, before reunification. It reminds me of my time in Poland and East Berlin before the Wall fell. Love the dated fashion. The story, the writing, the acting, the relevance rank very high. It's so worth viewing.
review by . June 03, 2008
posted in Movie Hype
American college campuses overflow with devotees of Communism. The media are loaded with people who think Che Guevera was a hero and that the United States was wrong for resisting Communism.'     And then along comes a movie like "The Lives Of Others". Yes, it is a dramatization. No, the Stasi did not lavish two or more full time agents on a relatively minor dissident like the playwright here, Georg Dreyman. Yes, Communist bureaucrats did destroy the lives of others, as the Minister …
review by . January 11, 2008
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: Brilliant story, brilliant way of telling it      Cons: Might be too slow and subtle for a casual viewer      The Bottom Line: 30 words aren't enough. If you are a movie fan willing to pay attention to a deliberate, slow pace, then you should enjoy this film.      Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie''s plot.      Auteur Florian Henckle von Donnersmarck created The Lives …
review by . November 28, 2007
Having never heard of this movie a week ago, I stumbled onto it and am so thankful for dumb luck. It's not often I find myself obsessing over a movie rental but that's what happened here. 3 viewings and wanting more, at the very least I'll rent this again soon. In the end, I'll buy it on dvd. I wish I could have had a chance to see it in a theater. A quiet, textural movie filled with subtle shadings and emotional color where there is little visual color, The Lives of Others gets deeper every time …
review by . September 17, 2007
This is a well-made, very well-acted movie. As a personal bonus to me, the German was Hochdeutsch enough for me to understand it. I was moved to fears and tears by moments of it. However, it is significantly flawed by unrealism of a Hollywood sort not far from James Bond or 24. The bugging of the writer's apartment, during a couple hours of absence, could not have been anything like the hi-tech system shown in the movie. I traveled in East Germany before the Fall of the Wall, and I worked in both …
review by . August 25, 2007
Das Leben der Anderen (The Live of Others) is a powerful film that opens a window to the West of what life was like in East Germany during the time of the Berlin Wall. It is a tense yet balanced work by newcomer writer and director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck who manages to present a tense story of espionage, suspense, intrigue, and political danger without the need for car chases, explosions, gunfire, or any of the usual accoutrements that pulse through other stories of this nature. Instead …
About the reviewer
Robert Buchanan ()
Ranked #29
I'm a bibliophile, ailurophile, inveterate aggregator, dedicated middlebrow and anastrophizing syntax addict. My personality type is that of superlative INTJ.
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