Written and Directed by: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Starring: Ulrich Mühe, Sebastian Koch, Martina Gedeck
East Berlin, November 1984. With reunification still an impossible (and dangerous) dream, everyday life for citizens of the GDR1 is bleak and oppressive.
Deep inside the Ministry for State Security buildings, (Ministerium für Staatsicherheit) an investigation is about to begin. At first fairly confident of having the protection of innocence, the suspect honestly answers all the questions put to him.
In a classroom the next day, Stasi2 agent Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe) plays the tape recording of the interview back to his students. Out of the speakers comes the chilling sound of a man crying helplessly after hours of relentless questioning. They will not let him go unless he says what they want him to say, and he must be guilty otherwise why would the Stasi have arrested him?
Wiesler coldly states that if the man cries he is guilty. An innocent man does not cry; he has nothing to fear.
One student bravely asks whether this kind of treatment is necessary. Wiesler looks up, nods curtly, and marks an 'X' next to the student's name.
In this society where it is almost impossible to think freely, writers and artists are mistrusted people. Many have been imprisoned. Carelessly placed words, whether spoken or written, can mean a swift, brutal visit by the dreaded Stasi.
Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) is a playwright who knows his life depends on knowing exactly which words are safe to say. At the start of the film, he has the dubious honour of being a writer approved by the GDR government; an unwelcome accolade causing mistrust among his friends who accuse him of being a coward and a hypocrite. Even in his flat, talking with his girlfriend, Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck), he is careful not to reveal too much.
At the premier of Georg's new play, Wiesler's boss Anton Grubitz (Ulrich Tukur) leans over and whispers:
'He's our only non-subversive writer.'
Wiesler studies him coldly before replying:
'I'd have him monitored.'
Wiesler's wish comes true. The Minister of Culture Bruno Hempf (Thomas Thieme) sees Christa acting in the main role and decides he must have her. Wiesler is instructed to put Georg under surveillance; with Georg out of the way, the minister's path to Christa will be clear.
From being the 'only non-subversive writer' in the GDR, Georg is suddenly under surveillance as a suspicious person.
Wiesler is instructed to bug the couple's flat which he does with a ruthless efficiency.
Yet this cold man starts to become unexpectedly touched by the couple it is his job to watch. As he sits alone in a dark attic watching them, he becomes increasingly, secretively, immersed in their lives. Wiesler quickly realises the reason for the surveillance is because the minister wants Christa and not because Georg is an enemy of the GDR. Gerd Wiesler, the cold and loyal agent of the state, starts to question his own beliefs as his doubts in the political system increase.
After the wall comes down, Georg Dreyman goes to check his files, and sees many other people crouched over tables as they intently scour documents. The director, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, said this scene reflects the anguish that resulted from the Stasi's files being opened to the public. Many lives were destroyed as people checked what had been written about them; and in many cases made the upsetting discovery that they had been spied upon by their friends and family. What was frightening was how much detail was provided. As shown in the film, if under surveillance, your every single movement would be recorded.
All the colours in the film tend to be muted. When sudden flashes of colour do appear therefore, they appear all the more striking and dramatic; for example, the colour red which makes a couple of brief yet highly significant appearances. It is as if these repressed colours depicted in each successive frame of the film reflect the continual oppression of the citizens by the all-powerful state.
Sadly, Ulrich Mühe died on 25 July 2007.
Das Leben der Anderen has won many international awards. A small selection of these is listed below.
Academy Awards USA 2007
- Best Foreign Language Film of the Year, Germany.
Bavarian Film Awards 2006
- Best Actor (Darstellerpreis) - Ulrich Mühe
- Best Direction - Young Film (Regienachwuchspreis) - Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
- Best Screenplay (Drehbuchpreis) - Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
London Film Festival 2006
- Satyajit Ray Award - Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck