In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “It’s a rich, fascinating period for storytelling to exploit, which is exactly what I got with The Lives of Others.”
The main reason I started this blog was to make me watch more movies, and to vary the kinds of movies I watched. The first part of that has been well and truly accomplished with me watching hundreds of movies for the first time, instead of falling back on old favourites over and over again. But l’m not sure if I’ve varied my selections enough. I still watch mainly American movies, with directors, writers and actors that make them a pretty safe bet. So this year, I’m forcing myself to seek out more international movies. With Foreign Language Weekends, every weekend(ish) during 2016, I’ll review two(ish) non-English language movies.
“Do you even know what the Stasi is?”
The cold War will never stop being fascinating to me. Last year, Spielberg gave us his take on it with Bridge of Spies. The underseen, under rated and recently cancelled TV show Manhattan may have been set during WWII, but it was fueled by the paranoia of America and England’s uneasy alliance with Russia. I’m sure there’ll be countless more Cold War based movies made as along as movies are a thing.
But I‘ve recently discovered a sub genre of Cold War stories, those set in the 80s. The hay day of the 50s and 60s was long gone, but Ronald Regan managed to bring back red panic in a major way. Right now on TV, The Americans and Deutschland 83 are doing a fantastic job of highlighting those closing days of the Cold War. It’s a rich, fascinating period for storytelling to exploit, which is exactly what I got with The Lives of Others.
In early 80s East Germany, Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Muhe) is an interrogator for the Stasi, East Germany’s oppressive police force described in the movie as, “bad men who put people in prison.” He’s given the job of running surveillance on playwright Gorge Dreyman (Sebastian Koch). Dreyman has always written plays that support the state’s agenda, so it’s strange that he would be suspected of any sort of treasonous intentions. In turns out, he’s only being investigated because Weisler’s boss has a thing for Dreyman’s actress girlfriend, Christa-Maria (Martina Gedeck).
But coincidentally, the surveillance coincides with Dreyman becoming disillusioned with his government and anonymously writing an article voicing that dissatisfaction. At the same time, Wiesler learns of his boss’ less than noble motivations and starts to question his own devotion to his despotic employers.
I would call The Lives of Others a Cold War movie, even though it doesn’t really involve any East versus West, communism versus democracy action. This is all about the East’s battle with itself from within. Set four or five years before the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union, this is a time when the West clearly had the East on the ropes, but I like that this movie never really uses that as reason for any of its character’s actions. These are people who have spent basically their entire lives in a separated Germany, most would have only been young children during the Second World War. And because this version of their country is the only version that they ever really knew, I really dug their perspective of it.