The Lives of Others

The Lives of Others won the Oscar in 2006 for Best Foreign Film, and rightly so. While this award was once given to some truly impressive pieces of cinematic art (Bergman has won multiple as has Fellini and they even gave it to the surrealist master Bunuel) it has, in recent years, become instead a recognition of the best foreign imitation of the bland/pandering/self-important American pseudo-indie (see Juno or Shakespeare in Love or American Beauty) that makes your average American yuppie feel good about themselves for going to the local Landmark theater and watching subtitles for two hours. This is the reason more creative and non-traditional films (recently The White Ribbon, Waltz with Bashir, The Class or even Pan’s Labrynth) do not win this award. They have spice that can offend a voter’s tongue.

This is not to say that The Lives of Others is not a very effective film. A story of a playwright in East Berlin in 1984 and the no-nonsense Stasi agent that is assigned to spy on him, at times, quite effectively and chillingly is able to convey the level of paranoia present in that specific time and place (see the scene in the lunch room as a low-level Stasi agent stops short a joke about a Communist leader and turns pale once he realizes a superior is sitting 5 feet away.)

When I finished the film I felt quite underwhelmed. I felt like something was missing, and that thing was an artistic touch. There was nothing wrong with the film. Each shot, each performance, each piece of swelling music during the dramatic denoument, each pan, each montage was so by the book. Technically it all came off very well but in the sense of a good made for TV movie – it was all done so safely. It was as if you programed a robot to make a film. It was both thrilling (in it’s plot twists) and boring. It’s the definition of a B-minus film.

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One Comment on “The Lives of Others”

  1. Jeff Says:

    And, yes, in spite of all the critical love I still can’t see Haneke’s film winning the award this year – he’s still just too unpleasant in too many ways for the Academy. Bank on it.

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