Lenin once said that he could not listen to music because it moved him to be sweet and silly instead of mercilessly violent, a necessary trait to achieve a socialist state. So sets the tone for Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's remarkable film, The Lives of Others. Winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film (2007), the film is an intimate portrayal of one of the most isolating periods in modern history. In East Germany in 1984, the Stasi, the secret police of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany, is determined to discover anyone and everyone who has pro-Western sympathies. Stasi captain Gerd Wiesler, a dispirited, methodic loyalist, is given the task of spying on Georg Dreyman, a passionate playwright, and Dreyman's vivacious girlfriend, actress Christa-Maria Sieland. After installing hidden microphones in Dreyman's apartment, Wiesler scrutinizes the couple's actions and conversations from the apartment complex's attic. When Wiesler learns that his surveillance assignment was motivated by a political minister's lust for Christa-Maria, he begins to see how a "utopian" system of government becomes destructive in the hands of fallible, self-interested leaders. Astoundingly well-acted, The Lives of Others is satisfyingly redemptive and thought-provoking. I myself was entranced by the way that Weisler's heart softens as he lets the couple's magnetic beauty affect his hardened heart. This film is German with English subtitles.
Recommended by Leah Youse