Film Review: Das Leben der Anderen

In German this week we’ve started studying a bit of German history; at the start of the week we looked at a very brief overview of WWII, and then we looked at the splitting of Germany into the BRD and the DDR.

As part of this, we’re shortly going to be watching a film – Das Leben der Anderen (the Lives of Others). Its in German, with English subtitles.

I brought my own copy on Amazon (only £3.99, and Mum gets Amazon Prime – which basically means guaranteed next day delivery for free). We ordered it on Wednesday evening, it arrived on Thursday afternoon, and I watched it on Friday morning – taking advantage of the four hours I have without lessons on a Friday morning!

The film is set in East Berlin in the 1980s and shows how far the state went to monitor its citizens. Captain Gerd Wiesler (played by Ulrich Mühe) was sent to spy on the playright Georg Dreyman (played by Sebastian Koch). Weisler bugs Dreyman’s flat, he is able to listen in on everything going on inside. At first, it seems that Dreyman has nothing to hide… until he starts writing an article for Der Spiegel, a West German magazine. The Stasi gets hold of the original manuscript and attempts to trace the author. They’re unable to do this because the typewriter is unregistered, but eventually interrogation leads to Dreyman.

Meanwhile, through hours of listening to what’s happening in Dreyman’s flat, Wiesler starts questioning is beliefs, and withholds the truth about Dreyman’s actions from his reports, as he realizes the effect of a communist state on the people living in it.

Whilst I’m guessing that not many Stasi officers changed their beliefs, this film makes it believable when this happens to Wiesler – because they’ve obviously researched it in order to capture the atmosphere of the time – no one trusting anyone, with the state monitoring a lot of people, everyone driving Trabis etc. This is due to the fact that, the 1980s not being so long ago, people can still remember life in the DDR.

As director Henckel von Donnersmarck said in an interview: “In 1984 I was 11 years old and living in West Berlin. If we wanted to drive anywhere else in Western Germany, we had to drive through the communist DDR”. And Ulrich Mühe, who plays Wiesler, was himself under surveillance – from his own wife! Some of the events in Das Leben der Anderen are loosely based on what happened when Mühe was living in the DDR.

The film shows how the DDR was the sort of state where no one was able to trust anyone – not even members of their own family, and where the authorities were scared that people would try to resist or escape. Whilst communism is a thing of the past in Europe now, all this was going on just two years before I was born and its effects can still be felt in some Eastern European countries which haven’t had time to develop yet.

Its not a comedy, but there was one particular scene I liked, during which someone was joking about Honecker, the leader of the DDR… It took me a while to translate the subtites, and slow down the audio so I could hear it properly.

Honecker kommt frühr Morgens in sein Büro.

Er öffnet das Fenster, sieht die Sonne, und sagt: „Guten Morgen, liebe Sonne“, und die Sonne antwortet: „Guten Morgen, lieber Erich“.

Und am Mittag, geht Erich wieder zum Fenster, macht es auf, sieht die Sonne und sagt: „Guten Tag, liebe Sonne“, und die Sonne sagt: „Guten Tag, lieber Erich“.

Und Abends nach Feierabend, geht Honecker wieder ans Fenster und sagt: „Guten Abend, liebe Sonne“, und die Sonne sagt nichts. Also fragte noch mal: „Guten Abend, liebe Sonne. Was hast du?

Und dann sagt die Sonne: „Leck mich am Arsch, ich bin jetzt im Westen“.

And working out that last line was rather hard – because he said it extremely fast!

I’ve probably written far too much now – but before I leave you, I should point out a few important things before you decide to buy it:

  • Its a 15 certificate, so may be unsuitable for those under the age of 15.
  • Audio is in German. Subtitles are in English. If there’s someone in your family who hates subtitles, then its not suitable (Dad hates subtitles – they give him a headache) – unless you speak good German, that is.
  • Its £3.99 on Amazon.
  • Its about 2hrs 10mins in length.
  • Includes audio commentaries by the writer & director – although I haven’t seen these yet.

Fred Hart

Stock Controller and Radio Presenter/Producer

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