The scope managed by The Lives of Others, winner of the 2007 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, is especially impressive given that the movie is about a society obsessively focused on the tiniest of details. Set in 1984 East Berlin, Lives takes us into the operations of the state security service, or Stasi, as it uses bribery, surveillance and coercion to maintain power for the ruling socialist party. The case at hand involves a repressed Stasi officer (Ulrich Muhe) assigned to spy on a playwright (Sebastian Koch) and actress (Martina Gedeck) for spurious reasons. As he watches the pressure unravel their lives, empathy slowly, tragically creeps in. The Lives of Others benefits from the voyeuristic suspense built into the genre – we’re watching the watchers – but it also takes ingenious advantage of its omniscient vantage point. All three of the leads are given fully lived character arcs, making this much more powerful than one person’s story. We get a real sense of how nothing less than a society was ruined.
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