Thursday, March 6, 2008

On 'The Lives of Others'.

East Germany Cold War-Era was really 'Cold', so confining in the sense that even people with artistic pursuits were trenchantly settled with a feeling: "They decide what we play, who is to act, and who is to direct" - as the leading lady Crista Maria Sieland remarks for the Stasi (E. Germany’s Secret Police), in one of the intense moments of the political flick: 'The Lives of Others' - a film about blatant repression in the former GDR where our playwright-hero (Georg Dreyman) is put under fashion-of-those-days surveillance for potential subversive anti-socialist tendencies, by a hardened Stasi agent (Gerd Wiesler) - our Protagonist.

But the movie is not that typical drama with made-to-be-unpredictable twists and turns, of heart-pounding climaxes, or of brutal imagery of social holocaust crimes. Instead its a stirring slow-moving story that stays persuasive without really meaning to be, drenches you in the emotional smugness of its lead characters, nudges you by the side in a sign of unintentional seduction...and leaves you without feeling manipulated by a feigned piece of cinema art.

Movies that center around character transformations are majorly successful (say our household-familiar flick Jo Jita Wohi Sikander, or like in 'A Walk To Remember' - haven't watched it but heard highly about it), but that also requires powerful screenplay and sound plot - which must appear far detached from sugar-coated and dream-come-true fantasy.

Our protagonist (
Wiesler) - a cold-fish, dispassionate character is a master interrogator who has lived and breathed every moment in the Socialists ideologies, is fucking good at his job and his passion reflects in his ever-staring unblinking eyes. The plot really kicks in when he is made (by his own doubting mind & the state minister's lascivious intentions) to rig through, to the very detail of every intimate moments, our playwright's life - the life of an ardent lover who allows some space of mistrust from his celebrity lady-love (Crista); of a silent radical who conspires with the 'West' world to pitch in anti-Stasi rehotric, and of a good-at-heart human being trying to live a life of purpose. This all is enough for Wiesler's hardened heart to melt and his enlightened morality pushes him down to even save playwright's subversive acts. But the plot is taken towards a poignant tough end with our leading lady...(no I shouldn't play the spoiler - Go Watch It!)

This is where the screenplay comes out strong - we don't see any mawkish scene where the
Wiesler weeps out loud with a sudden transformation of heart, instead the script fondles carefully with the sentiments, such as the scene when Wiesler stays slept, holding hand together as in a hug, as he hears on headphone the love of the couple (Dreyman-Crista) in the same position. Time to time we also witness the sheer power of the Stasi and the cower German citizens. A sense of paleness covers the film throughout, as it showcasts a dull stasis of Cold War-era psychology, of old crumbling architectures secretly surrounded by spy police eavesdroppers.

However on top of all this, the narrative is successful in putting the Protagonist on the center-stage - a life's worth of a man who lived listening and gathering the secrets of others, of his heroics in saving a breaking-up love relationship, of his dig at his own ideologies that has defied him later...At the end when he is trodding dutifully down the street dragging his trolley and Dreyman not deciding to meet him to thank for the life he owed to him, or when we notice a slightest hint of smile on his face (for the first time) as he replies "Its for me" to the shopkeeper, for the book Dreyman dedicates to him...there's something wistful that stays within us audience even as the screen light fades...

*This German movie (Leben der Anderen, Das) won Best Foreign Film Oscar, 2006.


A S said...

If I hadn't watched the movie already, I'd be persuaded by the review... extremely well written!

The movie was extremely touching and powerful

rahu said...

The movie was simple and the review too complicated... So next time keep in mind dat the review is simple and short, you need not burden people with heavy words to praise better things..!!

Yatzworld said...

This review leaves you in doubt.Which is better -the movie or the review ?

Cyzak said...

Amazing... movie/review :D
Though I read the review after watching the movie :D