Friday, December 31, 2010

The Lives of Others

The Lives of Others is a foreign fillum. What I like about foreign fillums is I usually don’t recognise the actors from other fillums, so, in a way, that makes their characters more believable.
The Lives of Others is a Krautmovie. The 'Da' from run-lola-run is in it but every one else is new to me. I liked it, but I don’t think it’s a masterpiece. Almost, but not quite. What I have to say about it is full of spoilers, and I’d hate to ruin anyone’s enjoyment of it so if you haven’t seen it, and you’re wondering what else this post is about, then skip from here until you pass the picture of otters.

It’s a great idea, it describes a past historical situation with sensitivity and accuracy, it’s well-paced and directed and very nicely acted; so what’s your problem Darren?

Two things: the first is that, for the purpose of the plot, the cold observing Stasi (DDR Gestapo) must see his own loveless miserable existence in contrast to the life of the ‘artists’.
Their way of living, their way of loving, their way of ‘seeing’ must open his mind somewhat as he becomes exposed to it by keeping them under constant surveillance.

His life, and point of view, is cruel and uncompromising, but also tempered by a true belief in the validity of what he does; but something about the artists, energises parts of his soul and awakens his long-suppressed compassion.

Cool. I’d buy that for a dollar;- except the artists, as portrayed in the film, really aren’t all that inspiring. (The playwright plays one lovely piano piece, but apart from that, there’s nothing but a few rows and some shagging;- which really a Stasi surveillance man, of his experience, must be well used to by now).

Neither the actress nor the playwright ever demonstrate any artistic ability, sensitivity or insight, so it’s hard to see why they rock his world so much.

The other thing could be just me, and the way I’m used to following things and perhaps I haven’t seen enough European Cinema and perhaps things like this are just an acquired taste, but: The whole film is pretty much from the Stasi guy’s point of view; we are either with him or we are witnessing incidents he’s privy to: then there is a climax at the conclusion of the case, then we move on some years and we find out where he is when the Berlin wall comes down, and then we move on more years and this time we spend ages with the playwright and his search through old documents; in this section we only see our guy from a distance in the street.

So one cannot but think at that point: “Oh,- the film’s not about him anymore… when did that happen?” and then we move on yet more years and the last bit of the film is about him, and from his point of view again.

Like Hitchcock’s ‘Rear Window’, the film plays with the audience’s role as voyeur, but only so long as the film is from the Stasi guys point of view; the switch of perspective, so near the end, ruined the tone for me a little. Well, ruined the tone for me a lot. As I said, it aint a masterpiece, but it almost is and that’s what made the slight slight flaws so bothersome.

The director's other film is less well-known.

An aspect of ‘The Lives of Others’ struck me quite forcibly:
The Stasi can decide whether an artist or a writer or an actress ever work again; they even have tried and trusted techniques to stifle creativity forever, (which work depending on the artists personality type). The most benign is probably simple black-listing. A playwright whose plays are never performed becomes, of necessity: Nothing and Nobody.

Now, it’s New Years Eve which, as me own life continues, becomes more and more like another birthday to get depressed about. Emotional investments have resulted in zero returns; you'd think a man would throw himself into his work but, in truth, I haven’t written anything that has been performed in a full twelve months, (‘Spinal Krapp’ was written in 2009). Now, I haven’t received a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ from the fringe festival in Limerick but as the festival takes place in the end of January I think I’d be right in taking not hearing anything at all as a ‘No’.

It’s hard not to feel that that’s kind of ‘it’.

The Stasi were right, writing things that are never performed is more effective than torture for stifling a dramatist. Not half as painful, I'm sure, but more effective.

New year; New career? This is why I hate New years eve: it's supposed to be a party; but it feels like a precipice.

Oh well, I've managed 39 of them ,I'm sure I can drag myself through another

See you on the other side, and thank you very much for your time in 2010.


  1. New years is like a set of parenthesis that suspends everything and makes everybody look small between them, now as much as I could be your germinating darling buds of may after an incredibly amount of time in some Svalbard Global Seed Vault 'listening' in on your post here...tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow...nothings changed everythings to play for...take care p

  2. Actually, the stasi (and other secret state police in the former USSR/Communist countries), of course tried to stop creativity that was viewed as counter to the States, and thus the peoples interest.

    However, even in the most extreme case's (being sent to the Gulag etc) there was a way that many of the artists and writers could continue creating, and continue to be read (except in communist countries). That method was the Samizdat Manuscript.

    Samizdat manuscripts, were sometimes illegally printed and distributed in their countries of origin, but mostly were manuscripts that were smuggled out of the country of origin and printed in the west by publishing companies that were hungry for texts from "beyond the Iron Curtain".

    These printings would get to a potentially much wider audience than they could have achieved within the communist state structures, of course, all profits went to the companies that printed the work, and none to the artist.

    Even before the internet, totalitarian societies were having trouble keeping their free thinkers in line.

    A great work to read on the subject is "Ten years after Ivan Denisovich" by Zhores Aleksandrovich Medvedev.

    You can get it here:

    Peace and Hope