May 1, 2008 -- The best foreign language film of the year is also one of the year's best overall. This truly outstanding film about espionage and political intrigue in East Berlin during the cold war features interesting characters and a dramatic story that is touching, tragic and funny. A skilled spy, Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler (played by Ulrich Mühe) enchanted by a lovely actress, Christa-Maria Sieland (played by Martina Gedeck of “Mostly Martha”) volunteers to secretly monitor the activities of her boyfriend, playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch of “Black Book”) for the East German government. He becomes fascinated by their lives as he watches and listens to them with the aid of equipment secretly installed in Dreyman's apartment and in nearby buildings.
A high government official who desires Sieland, pressures Wiesler's boss to dig up some dirt on Dreyman, so he can have Sieland all to himself. Wiesler resists and begins to work in secret against his superiors to keep the two lovers together. He hides crucial evidence and fabricates other evidence to make it appear that Dreyman is engaging in no subversive activities even though he really is. This is very surprising because Dreyman was a loyal member of the East German regime who never had compunctions about spying on people before. It appears that Weisler is in love with Sieland and wants her to be happy. There are several twists near the end of the movie, which ends with an absolutely perfect line of dialogue. This is an excellent film about three passionate people trying to have just a little bit of freedom in an absolutely corrupt political environment.
This film trades heavily on the idea that we are all voyeurs, especially film audiences. It is easy to get lost in the lives of others, and this is what happens to Weisler. He is so seduced by Sieland that he loses himself in the case. He comes to so admire, and identify with, the enemies of the state that he becomes one himself. He also gains his humanity, something he'd lost years ago, at the same time. The full, passionate life of Dreyman and Sieland contrasts glaringly against Weisler's lonely empty life. An encounter between Sieland and Weisler, in which he cleverly gives her good advice about a decision she is making without giving away the fact that he knows all her secrets, is perfectly written. This film makes a nice dramatic bookend to that other popular film about East Germany at the end of the Cold War, “Good Bye Lenin.” This film rates an A.
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