Like the communist witch hunts that spooked Americans in the 50s, the Stasi haunts East Germany in the 80s. They are grey men lurking in the shadows, noting every movement of suspected rebels - stopping just short of the bowel-related variety. Ulrich Mühe plays one of these GDR agents, the aptly named Wiesler in Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's big screen debut The Lives Of Others. It offers a rare and fascinating snapshot of life behind The Berlin Wall.
Wiesler's latest mark is celebrated playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch of Black Book fame), but initially the operation seems futile. From his dingy lair across the street, Wiesler listens to Dreyman and his actress girlfriend Christa-Maria (Martina Gedeck) either idly chatting or engaging in what's amusingly reported as "various acts of intimacy." However, after the suicide of a blacklisted director chum, Dreyman is moved to write a diatribe against the State.
"YOU JUST CANNOT HELP BUT WATCH"
By this time it isn't the opposition of the two men but their odd kinship that creates intrigue. An unwitting Dreyman is nudged towards revolt by Wiesler's covert interferences, as both try to protect Christa-Maria from the lascivious clutches of a government minister (Thomas Thieme). Wiesler's gradual transition from loyal drone to actual human being is where the film is most powerful. The love story between Dreyman and Christa-Maria doesn't pull the heartstrings with quite the same force. Tension also slackens in the final stages, as Von Donnersmarck scrabbles around for the perfect ending. He gets there in the end, and even when the pace lags slightly, you just cannot help but watch...
In German with English subtitles.
The Lives Of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) is released in UK cinemas on Friday 13th April 2007.