"An innocent prisoner will become more angry by the hour due to the injustice suffered. He will shout and rage. A guilty prisoner becomes more calm and quiet. Or he cries. He knows he’s there for a reason. The best way to establish guilt or innocence is non-stop interrogation."
Das Leben der Anderen' tells the story of "an agent of the secret police in Berlin in 1984, who is conducting surveillance on a writer and his lover, and finds himself becoming increasingly absorbed by their lives."
THis post-noir espionage social drama, over the years has increasingly become a favourite feature among the critics and the general public. The gloomy atmosphere and the voyeuristic themes that bounce within the visual narration of the story keep you all the more hooked into this character-based drama.
We are transferred to the last years before the Wall of Berlin is demolished; the secret services of Germany see enemies and political spies everywhere. The once-glorious Germany is in tatters and fear is but a looming prospect for the German horizon.
Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, writer and director of the film, created a multi-layered environment of the film. The creeping voyeuristic style of choice to shoot the film almost bring chills and goosebumps to every viewer. As a kind of the prototype of a 'Big-Brother-Is-Watching-You' style of cinematography, he slowly sucks you in into the lives of a couple. The act is a glorious manifest of a post-war Peeping Tom who undermines the authority of only just doing his duty but finds something so sinfully delicious into a world that does not belong to him.
In relation to how the tone of the film is based, Donnersmarck chose to collect ideas and thoughts of his characters and give you a matter-of-fact kind of shooting technique.
But the film would be un-glorious without its actors. The undoubtedly brilliant (and sadly too soon departed) Ulrich Mühe, who got his recognition posthumously, but who managed to captivate and make such a sneer character into such a liked person. Mostly I think his best achievement in this film is that he managed to create such a multi-layer character and made his audience to try to understand and capture the humanity and the vulnerability of this role. Went into this film quite blind, not knowing what to expect, but by the end of it my heart was sinking for Mühe's performance. Like a tragic greek hero that leads himself into his fall, he sustains a sense of logic but also of a sadness that no one seems to share with him.
Likewise his on-screen protagonist and much to excellent Sebastian Koch who lets us into his character's private life and lets us be intrigued by what we, and Mühe, are not suppose to hover in. Koch's on-screen presence is so stunning that leaves us wondering whether we are suppose to like him or not. By the end we learn so much about him that perhaps we shouldn't that we can't help but like the little glimpses we got to eavesdrop about his life.
For me this film is a serene post-noir political thriller. It does not let you in on any glorious symbolistic secret you're suppose to uncover as a viewer. It lets you get sucked in slowly, and with time. Just enough to keep you guessing on where these characters will go.
Personally this filmic endeavour is a masterpiece because it dared to explore again the 1960s shooting technique that does not give you this hype-action political thriller but makes you work for your appreciation, something which makes it all the more valuable and delightful to watch.
I highly recommend this film for those who like to discover good European cinema and who are willing to let go and enjoy this film's penetrating story.
The Lives of Others (2006)