La Vie des Autres

Das Leben der Anderen

Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck :: Germany :: 2006 :: 2h17

In the early eighties, the DDR’s secret police are operating in full swing to keep the nation together within its repressive regime. Any person with any intellectual tendencies is suspect of potentially stirring up trouble, and tracked. Wiesler works for the Stasi. His rigorous unscrupulous nature is set to work to protect the interests of the state to the detriment of the individual. He is rewarded for his loyalty by being assigned the task of tracking the famous playwright Dreyman and his actress girlfriend. As time passes he realizes that he is not serving the interests of any higher ideal but rather the ambitions of a select few.

The noble but largely unconfrontational writer and his ambitious girlfriend Christa-Maria Sieland deal with the world around them in different ways of submission. Some level of collaboration in an oppressive state is seen as a near prerequisite for success by Christa-Maria, while Dreyman opts for the sideline route, but still rebels using the tools of his trade. The level of state interference runs deep into the lives of the characters who become conscious of their every move.

The subtlety of living in a ‘stable’ but profoundly uncomfortable state contrasts with the World War II movies which are usually presented to the audience to remind them of the perils of authoritarianism, where the awful choices presented to the individuals in the face of the authority risk the soldier’s knock on the door. Here we are not far away from the same dilemmas although the lack of Nazi uniforms and the contemporary setting increases the intimacy level. The high quality of the script and immaculate acting shine through this captivating work.

A darkly depressing reminder of the eternal danger of sacrificing liberty for a misconceived vision of social order. The German recent past is so close that it must be hard for the public not to realize that this social risk haunts all political choice and action. In a French election year, may it help to steer us as clear as possible from an interfering, manipulate state. But for that, the public will need the courage to go in to watch an upsetting dis-utopia in action, which is a painful exercise in nerves.

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