If you haven’t seen this German film yet, drop everything and GO. It won Best Foreign Film at this year’s Academy Awards, but from all accounts it should have won Best Film (a category in which it wasn’t even nominated). My cinema-going has been curtailed in the last year or so, mainly out of boredom at what’s on offer, but this more than made up for the bland also-rans.
The Lives of Others is set in East Germany before the Wall came down. Its peculiar genius is in creating an empathetic hero out of a man who, when we first meet him, seems to be a soulless Stasi officer. The film balances so many complex elements so beautifully, I staggered out of the cinema with my similarly affected friend. We had no choice but to find the nearest wine bar in order to balance ourselves out.
Raving about the film last week to anyone who would listen, I discovered a serendipitous connection between an acquaintance of mine and the film’s director. A friend of my client Simi, a German filmmaker called Christian, speaks to the director’s mother on the phone every day. The reason he does this is that the director’s mother is best friends with Christian’s aunt, who lives here in New York and who has recently been unwell. She calls him to see how her friend is doing. She did this while I was working with Christian during filming of Simi reading from her memoir to a group of young disabled women last week. I was trying to hold a boom microphone and not make too much noise as I moved it around.
From Christian (and his wife, whom I met in the car on the way home to Brooklyn – imagine, a lift home, in a car!), I learned that the only person of their acquaintance in Germany who did not enjoy the film was a theatre actress who, on principle, could not accept a rounded and sympathetic portrayal of a Stasi officer. This actress had herself been imprisoned during the years portrayed in the film; a misfortune made worse by her impeccably poor timing: apparently she had fled Romania to Germany … only for the wall to go UP three days after she arrived.
My “two degrees of separation” life continues apace.