After my recent visit to Berlin I decided to re-watch one of my favourite foreign language movies, one I originally saw at the cinema on its release and a couple of times since on DVD. The Lives of Others (2006) is a psychological political thriller set in 1984 and the debut feature film of German born director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck who also wrote and co-produced the movie. The movie focuses on how the Socialist Unity Party of Germany managed to keep its East Berlin citizens under surveillance. The process of collecting information on the inhabitants of the GDR was carried out by the Ministry of State Security (MfS) or, as the East German people called them the Stasi.
The director tells the story through three main characters. The first being a Stasi officer played by Ulrich Muhe who was born in East Germany in 1953 and sadly died shortly after the films release. After German reunification Muhe allegedly discovered that he was under surveillance, not only by four fellow actors but also his wife Grollmann who was registered as an IM. The cold and efficient character he plays, Captain Gerd Wiesler is tasked by his superiors to keep a well-known East German playwright and academic along with his actress lover under surveillance and how this changes his outlook on his life and work. Sebastian Koch plays the playwright Georg Dreyman and Martina Gedeck portrays his actress lover Christa-Maria Sieland. The movie demonstrates the efficiency in the way MfS suspects were observed and how extensive records were kept of their lives, activities and the people they mixed with. As witnessed in the movie it was not always done for the right reasons.
Released 17 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall The Lives of Others won the 2006 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and was the first serious treatment of this period by the West after a series of comedies such as Goodbye, Lenin! (2003) and Sonnenallee (1999). The movie is very highly regarded for its convincing script with every line meticulously thought out, the brilliant acting of all concerned but notable because of the accuracy of the sets and its factual atmosphere. This was reinforced by my recent visit to both the Stasi Prison at Berlin-Hohenschonhausen and the headquarters of the GDR Ministry for State Security (MfS) that from 1960/61 until 1989 was one of the most secure areas in East Berlin. (For more information on both see Berlin Diary 2016). I cannot recommend this film highly enough both as dramatic entertainment and as a perfect example of modern history and if you have not seen it I would suggest you put that right at your earliest convenience.