Lives of Others
The new Hasselhoff album is really deep.

Theatrical Release Date: 03/23/2006 (Germany), 02/09/2007 (USA)
Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Cast: Sebastian Koch, Ulrich Mühe, Ulrich Tukur, Martina Gedeck

With a name like von Donnersmarck, you know it’s German!

Well, the 2007 Academy Awards decided that “The Lives of Others” was the best foreign language film of the year, beating out the more widely seen “Pan’s Labyrinth”.

Sadly, I don’t think I got to too many foreign language films this year so whether they made the right decision is a little unclear to me. (I saw this film in January but thought I’d mention the award since I’m writing this after the Oscars were announced.)

However, I can’t say they were wrong to nominate it.

“The Lives of Others” is set in 1980s socialist East Berlin. The secret police are out in force and the freethinking “radicals” are under constant scrutiny and persecution.

The story of the film centers on a playwright (Koch) who wants to expose the unjust system by sending information to West Berlin for publication.

As part of a targeted group of people, there is a secret service agent assigned to monitor his actions and discussions (Mühe).

Mühe discovers along the way that the system he is protecting may be harmful to its citizens and begins to allow Koch to disseminate his information, helping to cover his tracks.

All the while, Koch’s wife (played by the wonderful Martina Gedeck) is caught in a struggle of her own. A political minister has decided that in order for her to be allowed to perform on stage, she has to perform for him.

As could be expected, the stories collide towards the end to provide a more all-encompassing storyline.

I’ve probably said too much already but if you couldn’t figure this stuff out as quickly as I could, well that’s just sad.

Overall, “The Lives of Others” delivers good acting performances, a tense environment and if you are a fan of this genre, you’re going to like the film.

My biggest complaint with the film is the length. At a running time just over 2 ½ hours, I thought there were a good 30 minutes to cut out near the beginning.

I get that the socialist regime made things tough in East Berlin at the time and a few opening scenes would have been enough.

However, Von Donnersmarck decided to extend the beginning in such elaborate fashion that I almost forgot the point of the film as it came close to becoming more a portrait of Koch and Gedeck’s life than a thriller about escaping the clutches of the secret police.

Also, once the story of Koch vs. the secret police is over, the film fast forwards to a time after the Berlin wall fell to present the full scope of the events and I understand why it’s there but it fell a little forced.

This is one of those instances where I might rather have the film fade to black and throw up some text to explain what the fall of Socialism meant to Germany.

Aside from that, “The Lives of Others” is a well-rounded film and I’ll give it a 3 out of 5. I’ve seen plenty of better foreign cinema but there’s a lot worse out there too.