Oscar for 'The Lives of Others'

Article published on Jan. 30, 2007
Article published on Jan. 30, 2007
German film director Florian Henckel's feature debut shines in Hollywood with an elegant and assured spy thriller

East Berlin, 1984. Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe) is a respected captain in the Stasi (the secret police of the former GDR). He is responsible for the covert surveillance of a bohemian couple, playwright Georg Dreymann (played by 45-year-old Sebastián Koch) and his lover, a popular actress Christa-Maria Sieland (played by Bavarian-born Martina Gedeck), who are suspected of not living strictly by the rules of the Communist regime.

Wiesler pursues his case so comprehensively that it becomes his obsession. But as the investigation begins to reveal questionable evidence which Wiesler decides to omit from his daily reports, it seems that he is learning to understand and accept the lives of others.

Wolf in sheep’s clothing?

The transformation of a wicked Stasi agent into a compassionate human being is the thread by which this sober thriller is suspended. The movie unfolds in tones of grey, not only visually, in Stasi uniforms or the dingy hideaways of the spies, but also as a concept: the accepted roles are blurred: who is the 'goodie', who is the 'baddie'? All the characters make connections with the viewer, since all are touched with humanity. No gimmicks or special effects, just an irresistible, lulling, hypnotising rhythm.

This is largely achieved through the powerful performances of a gifted cast in which 54-year-old Mühe stands out. As the redeemed villain of the piece, his interpretation is at once both so precise and rich in detail that he inspires at first loathing and later sympathy: a merciless wolf that becomes a defenceless lamb.

The Lives of Others won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film at the 79th Academy Awards, beating Mexico's Pan's Labyrinth, Canada's Water, Algeria's Days of Glory and Denmark's After the Wedding. As well as winning won Best Film in the European Film Awards of 2006. In the same year it also triumphed at the Seville Film Festival, where it won the Silver Giraldillo, a prize worth 30, 000 Euros.

Release dates

France: 31 January 2007

USA: 9 February 2007

Spain: 16 February 2007

Italy: 6 April 2007

30 other countries: Spring 2007