Sunday, 22 February 2015


“Courage is grace under pressure.” - Ernest Hemingway

We watched Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck 2006 excellent film “The Lives of Others” starring Ulrich Mühe, Martina Gedeck, Sebastian Koch, Ulrich Tukur and Thomas Thieme. The director also wrote the screenplay, which must have made this film one that is very close to his heart. This is definitely one film that is worth the 78 wins and 27 nominations for awards that it achieved, including the 2007 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

The plot has as follows: Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe) is an officer with the Stasi, the East German secret police. It is 1984 when Wiesler attends a play written by Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch), who is considered by many to be the ultimate example of the loyal citizen and a man of letters that supports the East German Socialist regime. Wiesler has a gut feeling that Dreyman can’t be as ideal as he seems and believes surveillance is called for. The Minister of Culture (Thomas Thieme) agrees but only later does Wiesler learn that the Minister sees Wiesler as a rival and lusts after his partner and leading actress, Christa (Martina Gedeck).

Dreyman’s apartment is bugged and Wiesler is in charge of surveillance. The more time Wiesler spends listening in on them, the more involved he becomes in their lives and he comes to care about them. The once rigid Stasi officer begins to intervene in their lives, in a positive way, protecting them whenever possible. Eventually, Wiesler’s activities catch up with him and he must prove himself loyal to the regime and his superior, Lieutenant Colonel Anton Grubitz (Ulrich Tukur)…

The film is 137 minutes long, but never did we look at the clock and it kept our interest up throughout. The acting was exceptional, the cinematography, sets, costumes and music splendid and production values wonderful. This was a stellar film in all categories. That everyone involved in its making believed in it is supported by the fact that the entire budget of the film, about 2 million dollars (1.6 million Euro), was possible only because the actors were willing to work for 20% of their customary salary.

The themes running through the movie are art (literature, music, acting, etc), and the positive effect it can have on people’s lives; conscience, and for how long we can choose ignore it; betrayal, and the way we can fall into its trap; redemption, and how we can salvage our self respect and humanity in the face of past wrongdoing. The manner in which a person may realise the error of their way and how they can actively take steps to make right their wrongs in a pivotal element in the film and is it this positive transformation of character that makes the movie a powerful one.

I would recommend this film most highly, but be warned, it is a gritty, “heavy”, confronting film that challenges viewers and exposes many of the atrocities of totalitarian regimes, highlighting the abuses of human rights and personal freedom that is inevitable in such regimes. It is a robust, substantial and absorbing film that one can sink one’s teeth into. We found it poignant, moving and extremely satisfying as both a movie and as a political statement.


  1. Nicholas, this is indeed a wonderful film and I think either the director or leading man was actually, at one time in real life, involved with the Stasi.
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  2. This was an outstanding film! Excellent review.