The Lives of Others

Rated R 2007

Set in East Berlin circa 1984, when one in a hundred citizens of the German Democratic Republic was a government informant, this aptly chilly look at communist surveillance culture could never have slipped past state security 20 years ago -- even if it ends up concluding that a fastidious Stasi snoop (Ulrich Muhe) isn't beyond redemption. Peeping on an allegedly subversive playwright (Sebastian Koch) from the discomfort of a frozen attic, his huge headphones doing double duty as earmuffs, secret police captain Gerd Wiesler sits in his down jacket and . . . sheds a tear. More political intrigue: Has young writer-director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck whitewashed the Stasi by giving his secret policeman the faint hint of a heart? Certainly the film suggests that East German totalitarianism had, before the end, acknowledged the error of its ways -- which seems no less likely a scenario than that of rats fleeing a sinking ship. If the filmmaker commits a crime, it's in pushing the character's rehabilitation slightly too far -- about as much as the weight of a teardrop.

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The Lives of Others

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