By Jeff Labrecque
Updated August 24, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT
Credit: Hagen Kelle

It is 1984, and Big Brother is very real in East Germany, where Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe), a dedicated member of the Stasi secret police, is consumed by hunting traitors. But when the stoic bureaucrat investigates noted playwright Dreyman and his actress girlfriend (Sebastian Koch and Martina Gedeck), the seemingly soulless man experiences a moral awakening. While eavesdropping on the couple’s every word, kiss, and song, Wiesler finds his devotion to a decaying system challenged by the passion of the artists. ”Can anyone who has heard this music,” asks Dreyman from his piano, ”I mean truly heard it — really be a bad person?” For Mühe, who had been shadowed by the Stasi in the 1980s, making the Oscar-winning The Lives of Others was an extremely personal experience. His performance is a study in artful stillness, yet there’s amazing intensity in his calculated efficiency. Tragically, the actor, who died of cancer in July, ”couldn’t really enjoy all the success that we had with this film because he encountered so much hatred in Germany…for having spoken about his own past,” says director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck in an enlightening commentary. For those truly listening, however, Mühe’s creation is an enduring achievement. A

The Lives of Others

  • Movie
  • R
  • 137 minutes
  • Florian Henckel