I almost never go to the movies. Watching The Lives of Others
reminded me how much I appreciate the few that are worth seeing.
It's not loud, the special effects aren't the point of the movie and it involves both a tragic death and a semi-happy ending. Das Leben der Anderen
is obviously not a Hollywood movie. The setting is East Berlin, 1984, and the protagonists are a free-thinking playwright and an eventually conscience-torn officer in the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit, or Stasi.
The movie looks not more than good until the last part, but the ending is brilliant. The sobre and straightforward storytelling contributes just as much to the viewer's experience as the plot itself. (Since I'm seduced by this, it probably also means I watch European movies too rarely.)
My personal highlight is when bad guy Anton Grubitz, an officer hunting proof that the protagonist playwright is an enemy of the state, explains how a specific personality type of artists is most easily neutralised: Put him in isolation for ten months without human contact, and he'll never perform paintings, novels or plays again. For humans, forced solitude is torture as good as anything.
Coincidentally, I started reading Dag Solstad's Shyness and Dignity
just before watching Das Leben der Anderen
. In Eastern Germany and the other Communist satellites, the governments were after the liberal intellectuals. In Norway, the Communists (intellectual or not) were under surveillance. Whether left-leaning Solstad was one of the surveillees, I don't know. At least he's not been scared of publishing, and we're pretty happy about that.