Lives of Others (The) AKA Das Leben der Anderen
R3 - Hong Kong - Edko Video Ltd.
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (16th October 2007).
The Film

When the Oscar for 'Best Foreign Language Film' was awarded I was surprised that the imaginative "Pan's Labyrinth" (2006) didn't take the award. It didn't matter that I had not yet seen "The Lives of Others" (in fact it was the only film in that category I had not seen) but I was sure that the Academy wouldn't let a film with such intricate and hauntingly beautiful imagination as "Pan's Labyrinth" go without the award, so when "The Lives of Others" took the award I was immediately intrigued to see this remarkable German film. Soon after the finish I came to the conclusion that indeed the best film had won. "The Lives of Others" is from start to finish a masterpiece. And considering that it marks the feature film debut of writer and director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck it makes this feat all the more impressive sweeping up accolades all the way to the Oscars including 7 Deutscher Filmpreis awards (German equivalent to the Oscars) from an unprecedented 11 nominations (the most for any German film ever).
The film's history of production has been sketchy, costing only a small $2 million the film's financing was difficult to raise, initially the filmmaker's speculated that the subject matter and a reluctance to confront the communist past of East Germany as reasons on why the financing was hard to get, when the film's budget was finally raised the film hit further roadblocks when the Berlin Film Festival refused the film entry. Despite these various problems the film found an audience, critical praise and a healthy box office both at home in Germany and overseas.
"The Lives of Others" tells the story of play writer Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) and his partner the actress Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck) are placed under full surveillance and suspected of treason and disloyalty to the party. The order signed off by the Minister of Culture Bruno Hempf (Thomas Thieme) who has taken a liking to the popular actress Christa, and agent Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe) is given the job of spearheading the process and recording everything these two do and say. The more Wiesler listens and observes these people's lives the more about them fascinates him and he never thought that this will change all of their lives forever.
"The Lives of Others" is an intricately set-up film that has the ability to suck the viewer and we feel as involved in these people's lives as agent Wiesler is, this is phenomenal feat from a first time feature film maker and marks an immense talent. The film's narrative unfolds as Wiesler learns about Dreyman and Sieland this process is the lynchpin for direct involvement from the audience and a useful device. Throughout the process the film's paranoia is spun in a 70's inspired manner taking a few notes from Frances Ford Coppola's "The Conversation" (1974) especially when taking into account the film's slow boil pace, it's like walking closer and closer to the edge of a cliff.
The film's photography from Hagen Bogdanski and score from Stephane Moucha and Gabriel Yared add a further layer to the film's tone; it resonates with a melodic, meticulous and thoroughly spellbinding in its ability to capture the viewer.
One of the most interesting aspects of the film is that it provides a thoughtful character study of its principles we are able to garner an understanding of what life was like under the Communist Regime of East Germany, something that most Westerners are not familiar with, in many ways this film is equal parts historical lesson.
Finally we reach the performances, which are exceptionally brilliant, especially those of Ulrich Muhe and Sebastian Koch. Muhe delivers a finely tuned turn as agent Wiesler, his transformation over the course of the film is a revelation in subtle and intricate acting.
"The Lives of Others" is a quietly remarkable film with complex and career defining performance from the film's lead that will have you riveted right until the film's climax. It's an excellent start to what could become a brilliant career for filmmaker Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. "The Lives of Others" is a film in which I can't recommend highly enough.

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1 this transfer is a stunner, the image is impeccably sharp and detailed. The image is crisp and clean without a single flaw; the colors are appropriately muted and are rendered well with deep and bold blacks and consistent shadow detail. Light film grain can be seen but this is never a distracting and I couldn't spot any compression flaws or edge-enhancement to this otherwise beautiful transfer.

Audio

Two audio tracks are included in the film's native German in DTS ES 6.1 as well as Dolby Digital 5.1 EX encoded. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its DTS ES surround track and found it an immersive and robust mix that displays brilliant range and depth. The film's ambient feel expertly utilizes the surround channels to create the depth required with the film's score layering the sound track. The film's dialogue is clear and distortion free, direction effects appear natural and overall the track is as solid as the film's image transfer.
Optional subtitles are included in Chinese and English. The English subtitles do not feature any spelling or grammatical errors and don't disappear from the screen too quickly.

Extras

First up is the film's original theatrical trailer which runs for 2 minutes 8 seconds and appears to be the Hong Kong trailer, the quality is also not great. Following that is a photo gallery which features 10 production stills of the cast and rounding out the extras are single page filmographies for: Ulrich Muhe, Martina Gedeck, Sebastian Koch and Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck.

Packaging

This DVD is packaged in an amaray case housed in a cardboard slip-cover.

Overall

The Film: A+ Video: A Audio: A Extras: E+ Overall: B-

 


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