(Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck - 2006)
Review by Leonard Norwitz
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics / Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (USA)
Aspect ratio: 2:35:1
Feature film: 1080p
German Uncompressed PCM 5.1
German DD 5.1 Surround
English SDH, English, French and Spanish
• Commentary with Writer/Director Von Donnersmarck
• Interview with the Director
• Making-of Featurette
• Deleted Scenes
Standard Blu-ray case.
Release Date: August 21, 2007
The Lives of Others
A meditation in claustrophobia, paranoia, and the relationship between art and censorship. A story about three men in love with the same woman: each in their own way: one, accepting and nurturing; another, imaginary but invasive; and a third, objectifying and extortive. All this told in a tight, suspenseful, quiet thriller in the context of the waning years of the repressive [East] German Democratic Republic and its infamous secret police: the Stasi.
Winner of several prestigious awards, including Best Foreign Film by the Los Angeles Film Critics, Outstanding Feature Film, Best Direction, Best Screenplay, and Best Actor (Ulrich Mühe) and Best Supporting Actor (Ulrich Tukur) from the German Film Awards, Best Film, Best Actor and Best Screenplay at the European Film Awards, plus the Oscar for the Best Foreign Language Film of 2006 from first feature film director, Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck. (see HERE for an impressive list of its nearly 40 awards) – to which I can only add my belated congratulations, especially to Mühe, whose character says increasingly little as the story unfolds. Mühe is a poster child for the death of the soul, yet acutely self-aware of his own emptiness. He died of stomach cancer at 53 last year.
The Lives of Others
The Score Card
The Movie : 9
The acclaimed actress, Christa-Marie Sieland is the lover of playwright, Georg Dreyman. Dreyman has the unique distinction among his circle of intellectuals and fellow artists as one who does not embarrass the State with his plays and writings. Unhappily for him (as if the previous statement were not enough), Christa-Marie permits herself to be attended to by the influential minister, Bruno Hempf. Hempf extorts her favors by making certain she understands that he could make her break her career. Unbeknownst to her, Dreymann is acutely aware of all this. He understands her weakness in the face of such a threat. He, on the other hand, has sympathies for the Left, so he is no ethical daisy himself.
The plot is generated by Hempf's desire to remove Dreyman from the picture by asking the Stasi to find something to incriminate him and thus have him put in prison. This odious task falls on Gerd Wiesler, an expert interrogator and instructor in its methods. As it happens, his life is otherwise empty of any intimacy or meaning other than his fascination with the actress. The task he is assigned both titillates and frustrates him at levels he could never have predicted, and to act in ways he can barely understand.
Image : 8.5
The original film was a bit desaturated, like the lives of its characters, and this excellent Blu-ray transfer is likewise. In some of the nighttime shots, there was a noticeable, but not objectionable amount of noise for a few seconds now and then. There is a little more greenish cast that exists in the projected image than my screenshots suggest.
Please note that that the subtitles are in a clear white font, in contrast with the SD edition. However, Sony missed the opportunity to place them below the frame, as some other studios do.
Audio & Music : 8
Though The Lives of Others is billed as a thriller, it is a quiet and reserved one, with no opportunities to show off our sound systems. Even so, the music, dialogue and effects are all clear and realistic. In this film, it is the silence that matters most.
An aside about the music: When Georg plays Sonata for a Good Man at the piano, he makes the comment that "anyone who really listens to this music cannot be all bad." I would have liked to agree with him. Perhaps his remark is as valid for one good piece of music as another, but since this moment in the film is crucial, I wanted to be as moved as if I were hearing the Berg Violin Concerto. Alas, those days are over, so we have to use merely adequate musical stand-ins and accomplish the rest with acting.
Empathy : 9
How could anyone who really attends to the lives of these others not be truly affected, and this high-definition transfer makes the case without missing a beat.
Operations : 8
Straightforward, simple, easy to understand menu. Everything worked.
Extras : 8
I found the director's commentary to be illuminating as to the historical context. Von Donnersmarck speaks well, perhaps not as passionately as Herzog, but I was engaged. If you listen to the commentary, you will probably not find much new in the interview.