Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen, 2006)

It is an admirable task to humanize a Stasi agent. Not only were they the very personification of absolute authority over personal freedom, but they carried out their mission with utmost rigidity and brute force. A tale of redemption for such an agent is hard to stomach, even for the charitable ones. However, the Cologne-born Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (now that is a noble) manages to weave a story around one such agent's story of redemption and reward.

Ulrich Muhe (the passive, yet just, father in Haneke's original Funny Games (1997)) gives a performance that does justice to his name. Sadly, the actor passed away days before the Academy Awards where this film went home with the Best Foreign Language award. The large blue beads that stand in for his eyes never lose their brilliance. Yet, during moments of betrayal / loyalty, his face shows a million storms brewing inside. How he managed to do that is a mystery to me. Pedro Almodovar once described one of his frequent actresses, Chus Lampreave, as "uncategorizable". She wouldn't act, nor not-act. It is something in between. Ulrich Muhe's acting is similar: he is not acting for the camera, or the audience; but, he is much more than just another person passing by.

The film isn't just Muhe's perfect performance; the directing is also of the highest caliber. Von Donnersmack paints an East Germany that looks peaceful and (dare I say it?) attractive. However, the evil that is lurking underneath this facade is ever present. Wiesel is some kind of Big Brother - and ironically he acts like a big brother by protecting the object of his mission from forces bigger than him.

The climax could have handled with a little better pacing, but that is the only negative comment I can give to this film. And I dare anybody not to shed a few tears for the duration of the film - whether it is when Wiesel is reading Brecht, or the "Sonata for the Good Man", or the epilogue. Brilliant.

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