Monday, April 13, 2009

World Movie Series - 18 - Das Leben der Anderen

We are living our casual life in this vast world. Life is going absolutely smooth. We have friends, relatives and our own well wishers, and there is nothing to complain. Imagine suddenly that our life is getting monitored, archived, and a report is being prepared about our everyday activities. It’s painful to know that every second of our life is spied. Even all the intimate moments we had. What will be our state of mind? How will we react?

‘Lives of Others’ is one such film about the ruthless government which spies on its own people.

The film starts in 1984 in East Germany. There was a government organization called STASI (The ministry for state security) in East Germany, which served as the official secret service. The duty of STASI is to monitor people whom it thinks as rebels, and to find out any revolution plans and nip it in the bud.

We see STASI captain Weisler interrogating a person. He keeps telling the same thing that he didn’t help in any means for the escape of a rebel. The captain asks him to narrate the events which happened on a particular date repeatedly. Even after many hours, the person begs for sleep, but the captain again asks him to narrate the events.

We cut to the captain giving a lecture in a college. The captain plays the interrogation tape, and explains about liers. He tells that the person was lying as he says the same thing line by line every time he narrates about the incident, and these kinds of people have to be identified from the innocent. Finally, the person gives a name.

We then see Weisler talking to Col. Grubitz. They both attend a play, and Weisler points to the playwright Georg Drayman, tells to Grubitz there is something which is not alright about the writer. Grubitz tells Dreyman is a strict nationalist but a German minister Hempf asks Grubitz to monitor Drayman, and Grubitz in turn assigns the work to Weisler. At the end of the play, the minister praises the actress Christa-Maria who is also Drayman’s girlfriend, and tries to touch her secretly. She moves away.

Weisler goes to Drayman’s house when he is not around and plants mikes all over the place. He starts monitoring everything sitting in the attic up above Drayman’s apartment. From morning to night, he hears every conversation happening in Drayman’s apartment and in the night, an assistant shares the shift.

There is a party hoisted in Dreyman’s apartment. Noted director Jerska who had been blacklisted by the government due to his support of the rebels, comes to the party. Weisler hears every line spoken in the party and prepares a report.

Weisler comes to know about the minister’s interest towards Christa-Maria and is disappointed since he is an ardent believer of socialism and his country. He is perplexed by seeing the minister use all his powers to woo Christa-Maria.

We see Christa-Maria walking, and the minister’s car comes. He persuades her to get in, and tries to manhandle her inside the car. Christa-Maria gives in, as she is afraid of opposing a minister. Weisler secretly makes Dreyman to see Christa-Maria getting down from the minister’s car. Dreyman argues with Christa-Maria after some days when she lies to him about her relationship with the minister, and she tells him they both need to sleep with the government in order to live safely. If they start protesting, they will be long gone. She comes out to meet the minister, and goes to a bar where Weisler too is drinking. He goes to Christa-Maria and tells her he is her audience, and suggests she is a great actress and she doesn’t have to please anyone by going against her loved ones. She becomes clear, thanks him and leaves.

In the morning, Weisler learns from his assistant that Christa-Maria returned home that night and passionately made love with Dreyman promising him that she will never leave him.

Now, the blacklisted director Jerska commits suicide, and Dreyman openly starts to detest the government. He prepares a secret article with the help of his writer friends about the increasing suicides in East Germany which the government has repeatedly ignored, and sends it to a West German magazine. The writer friends tell Dreyman that his flat might also be bugged, and to test it out, they device a plan. The plan is to smuggle a fellow out of the country and although Weisler hears every word of the plan, doesn’t mention it in his report as he has grown compassionate towards the writer, and since nothing happened to them, the friends get convinced that Dreyman's house is not bugged.

For the same reason, Weisler lies in his daily reports that Dreyman is preparing a play for the 40th anniversary of the country. Hence, when Dreyman’s article creates a havoc all over the country, the minister becomes angry and enquires Grubitz who runs the operation, and when Grubitz in turn enquires Weisler, he tells nothing important is happening in Dreyman’s apartment.

Weisler is a lonely person, and since the society treats him like a machine, feels rejuvenated by listening to Dreyman playing the symphony in his piano, and steals books from the writer and reads them. Gradually he becomes more compassionate.

Meanwhile, as Christa-Maria has turned away from the minister, he becomes furious and orders Grubitz to destroy her future. Grubitz arrests Christa –Maria when she secretly buys banned medication, and persuades her to tell the truth about the article, since he has a suspicion towards Dreyman. She reluctantly gives in, tells him that the article was prepared by Dreyman and is hidden in his house. Grubitz immediately frisks the house with the police but nothing is recovered.

Grubitz then summons Weisler himself to interrogate Christa-Maria. While Weisler interrogates her, he again tells the same words that he is her audience, to remind her of the meeting they had in the bar earlier. She then tells the place where Dreyman has hidden the typewriter he used to type the article. She also signs to become an official informant for the government. Grubitz again searches exact place the type writer is hidden, but by this time, since Weisler has gone and removed the typewriter, Grubitz is unable to find the evidence. Meanwhile, guilty that she has become a traitor, Christa-Maria rushes to the street and stands on the middle, gets hit by a truck and dies, as Weisler rushes to her and cries that he has hidden the typewriter.

Grubitz orders to call of the entire surveillance mission, and says to Weisler that he will be de –promoted to steam-open the letters till he retires, with no kind of promotion.

Four years and seven months later, while Weisler is doing his job steam-opening letters, a fellow worker informs him that the Berlin wall has been destroyed. After haring the news, Weisler leads the workers out of the place.

Two years later, while seeing the same play in which Christa-Maria acted, Dreyman meets the minister Hempf who is now a businessman and enquires him why didn't they bug his apartment earlier and Hempf tells him that every inch of his house was wired. An amazed Dreyman goes to the national archives office where the archives of all the surveillance records were stored, and asks for his own records. Huge volumes of archives are brought in, where Dreyman finds each and every activity in his house was reported. But, when reading the pages where he conceived and typed the rebellious article, it’s been mentioned in the reports that he is preparing for the 40th anniversary play. Dreyman realizes that he is able to live only because of the officer who hid the information in the report. He then learns the code name of the officer as ‘HGW XX/7’ and learns his details.

Two years later, while Weisler, now a postman, is walking on a street, he sees the poster of Dreyman’s new book, and he goes in to a book store and reads it. It has been dedicated to ‘HGW XX/7’. A moved Weisler buys it, and when the employee asks whether the book can be gift wrapped, he replies ‘No.. It’s for me’.

With a close-up of Weisler, the film ends.

‘The lives of Others’ is made in German and is the first ever movie of director Florian Henkel Von Donnersmark (Juz a single name). He has done one and a half year’s research before he penned a single letter in the screenplay, and the screenplay itself was written five times over a period of two years. After all this hard work, he has given us a gem of a picture. The movie clearly tells us about the ruthless East German government which monitored almost all the important people in its country, for over a period of 49 years. The STASI employed over 274,000 people for its surveillance operations. About 174,000 informants have been identified in this period, which accounted for almost 2.5% of the total population.

The director tells that it was the statement by Lenin about hearing Beethoven inspired this film. Lenin has told that if he hears Beethoven, he will drop all his revolutionary ideals and will become a connoisseur. In the same way, the tough officer Weisler once hears the symphony played by Dreyman, and from that moment, becomes compassionate.

‘The lives of Others’ won the best foreign film in the 79th Oscars. It also won many awards, at the many film festivals across the world. This movie stands at #53 in IMDB’s list of top 250 movies. All the listening/recording props used in the film are actual STASI equipment on loan from museums and collectors. The props master had himself spent two years in a STASI prison and insisted upon absolute authenticity down to the machine used at the end of the film to steam-open up to 600 letters per hour (thanks: IMDB).

Director Donnersmarck spent a month translating the screenplay into French and sending it to Gabriel Yared to entice his participation as composer for the film. For the scene in which Dreyman plays the Sonata ‘For A Good Man’ on piano, Donnersmarck asked Yared to write a composition that in two minutes would turn Hitler away from all the atrocities he later committed. This pivotal scene was the germinal idea around which the original screenplay was conceived and constructed (thanks: IMDB).

A terrific debut film indeed, portraying the angst of an author and the compassion of a officer.

See the trailer here.


Intellijay said...

your blog is well organized. But the bright white font causes eye-fatigue. I couldnt read more than ten mins. Pls try to do something for this.

Otherway, you deliver a good job for atleast those who need advise on world movies but dont have an idea abt that.


The S c o r p said...

Thanx a lot friend, for d feedback. I was waitin for such useful feedback to improvise d site. Actually, my initial font was gold. I changed it to white based on a similar feedback. I'l try changing to somethin mild.. Keep readin and give in ur comments..

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