The Lives of Others (2006, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck)

screened Thursday August 2 2007 in Weehawken NJ IMDb Cindi noted that the two main contenders for last year's Foreign Film Oscar both were about the creative acts of individuals to transform their lives under totalitarian rule. What makes The Lives of Others more interesting to both of us is that, unlike the more familiar scenario of Pan's Labyrinth, a helpless child using her imagination to escape oppression, the key creative presence is part of the totalitarian regime. Ulrich Mühe, who died just last month, plays an East German Stasi officer who, attracted to an actress, contrives to stake out her boyfriend's apartment and effectively sabotage his life. The story gets interesting when he starts to fabricate his reports to cover up the apartment's anti-authoritarian goings-on just so he can continue his eavesdropping and manipulations. In essence he becomes the author of these people's fates even as he dutifully types out fake versions of their lives daily. The script and direction - both by von Donnersmarck - conspire to draw a number of ironies in bold strokes at every opportunity, but mercifully this one overarching irony is given sufficient room for extra-cinematic contemplation. The film is shot in the same expensive TV movie conventions that made Downfall a good but not great film. Germany's undergoing a revival in its commercial cinema but no new Herzogs, Wenders or Fassbinders to report of just yet... yes