Friday, March 02, 2007

10. The Lives of Others

This beat Pan's Labyrinth for the foreign language film Oscar, and I suppose that's how it should be. The Lives of Others is exceedingly intimate for a film that spans a decade and concerns East Germany under the Stasi, which employed people to spy on their fellow citizens. The film's setup is kind of like Rear Window, but with audio instead of visuals. Ulrich Mühe, in a performance lacking all vanity and pretense, plays the man who listens to the lives of a playwright and his actress-muse (played by Sebastian Koch and the disarming Martina Gedeck, pictured). Like Jimmy Stewart, Mühe is propelled by certain events from observation to action, but to decidedly different results. This is a film about social and psychological invasions, and how a society collapsed in on itself because, for all its snooping and subterfuge, no one was really sure who was watching whom. Apart from this, it's also about small kindnesses selflessly executed, and about how the only lives we should be digging into are our own. The end -- when Mühe gets an unexpected look at his own unexamined life -- is the film's greatest pleasure.

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