Dubby’s dvdiscussion: Blind lives


The Lives of Others was directed by writer, director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck and shows us in live action Nietzsche’s caveat, “Those who look into chasm, beware, the chasm looks back at you”.

In this case the chasm is the life intellectual in East Germany before the fall of the wall. And the person doing the looking is a Stasi Officer, who is meant to condemn free thought. A slow relentless movie this is cat and mouse at its best, but who is the cat and what will the mouse do are questions we see unfold.

Says Glenn Kenny, my favourite Premiere Magazine reviewer, “Lives, which is set in East Germany in the 1980s, touched a still-throbbing nerve when it premiered in the now-unified country last year, in large part because of its thorough and thoroughly wrenching portrayal of the ideology and methodology of Stasi, the East German secret police force whose emphasis on surveillance made life in the Communist-controlled country an Orwellian nightmare. In a way, the story told in Lives is 1984 in reverse. It begins with Captain Gerd Weisler (Muhe, who was himself under Stasi scrutiny during his early years as an actor), a Stasi operative so par excellence he’s teaching the hottest young recruits. A true believer in the system, the party, the works, he really loves Big Brother. Then he’s enlisted to spy on playwright Georg Dreyman (Koch). Dreyman owes his cozy bourgeois lifestyle to the fact that he toes the party line, so Weisler’s not really certain why he’s on Dreyman’s case. As it happens, it’s because a party boss wants to horn in on Dreyman’s lover, the beautiful actress Christa-Marie Seeland (Gedeck). Weisler finds himself developing a respect and affection for both Dreyman and Seeland as he learns how rotten to the core his masters are, which leads to a series of unbearably tense feints and confrontations.”

A movie which almost slipped past our radar was the black tragi-comedy, Land Of The Blind. With a cast that includes Tom Hollander, Ralph Fiennes and Donald Sutherland, the movie is a take-off on dictatorship and couldn’t be more timely.

Says Lisa Schwarzbaum of this cautionary tale that almost happened to us, “There’s an excess of handsome, jittery visual and theatrical style to this barrels-blazing first film from Edwards, a former US Army infantryman and intelligence officer who won a prestigious Nicholl screenwriting fellowship for his script. The flyaway story is anchored, certainly, by the fired-up performances of Donald Sutherland as Thorne, the prisoner-turned-power-grabber, and Ralph Fiennes as Joe, the obedient Establishment soldier who comes to support Thorne’s rebel cause, and then to regret his choice of candidate. Wearing the long hair of a 19th-century romantic and writing manifestos on his prison wall with feces, Sutherland’s Thorne (a jab in the side of the status quo?) is a tainted hero, while Fiennes bestows his usual compelling queasiness of soul on the character meant to represent... us? Just a guess.

“Meanwhile, the filmmaker revels in the easy gibe. Intent on demonstrating the crimes of Maximilian (Tom Hollander, specialising in facial expressions of pampered idiocy), the spoiled weakling dictator who inherits his president-for-life privileges when his Mussolini-headed father dies, Edwards shows the cruel fool consulting with advisers while straining and wiping on his own porcelain throne; he also presents the boor as an untalented wannabe filmmaker. In the movie’s one-eyed philosophy, that’s what passes as the last refuge of a scoundrel.”

The whole bit about absolute power corrupting is played out with swift ease. The fable, and the film is one, is that real rulers are few and far between and you and I are caught in the machinations of the more frequent mediocre person at the top.