The Lives of Others is a fantastic thriller set in 1980’s
. Stasi officer, Weisler (Ulrich Muhe) is ordered to spy on playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) by his superiors. Dreyman’s apartment is bugged and Weisler sits upstairs for hours on end, listening to everything that is said and done below him. Weisler soon discovers that the surveillance is down to one of his superiors infatuation with Dreyman’s girlfriend, the actress Christa Sieland, but nonetheless continues with his round the clock surveillance. Weisler, married to his job and with no life outside of it becomes intrigued by the lives of the artists who he is listening to, hearing literature and music which is completely new to him. He begins to suspect that the whole operation is an abuse of power and has to choose whether to continue to be honest in his accounts of what is going on in the apartment below him. East Germany
The film is acted with great aplomb. Muhe gives the standout performance however. He is mostly stoic and expressionless which makes the very occasional outbursts of emotion that much more unexpected. His performance reminds me most of Gary Oldman’s in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. It is the merest movement of a lip or raising of an eyebrow that gives away his feelings and emotions and is a wonderful performance. Sebastian Koch is also very good, playing the playwright who is under observation and Ulrich Tukur and Thomas Thieme are both well cast as the archetypal villains of the piece, playing the roles of a senior Stasi officer and Government official respectably.
The film’s great strength is its subtlety and the way the tension creeps up on the audience without being obvious. Again, I have to compare the film to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy in this respect. There is little in the way of action but the audience are kept waiting, on the edge of their seats for the story to play out. It is masterful story telling that is wonderfully directed by von Donnersmarck.
Additional – For a review of a tragi-comedy film featuring the same events click here.