Das Leben der Anderen (2006)
In the past few years, German cinema has experienced a revival centered around truthful, nuanced historical accounts in films such as Der Untergang and Sophie Scholl - Die letzten Tage. The feature debut of Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck is arguably the culmination of this tendency. It combines a harrowing but nostalgic (and not altogether disapproving) portrait of the political situation in the final period of the DDR with a masterly written, multi-character human drama of exceptional depth. This combination constitutes a recipe for something that tastes of both the bitter and the sweet, and that is both comfortably recognizable and profoundly stirring.
The three main characters are the writer/actress couple Georg Dreyman/Christa-Maria Sieland on the one hand, and the bureaucratic Stasi-captain Gerd Wiesler on the other. The offset is the excessive limitation of freedom of speech/movement as well as control of information flow carried out by Stasi in the period of the late 70s/early 80s. Some of the, by default, typically suspected were representatives of the artistic scene, such as Dreyman. But when Wiesler is put in charge of a new surveillance of Dreyman, his motives and view of life is altered - first subconsciously, then more profoundly.
Movies that insightfully are able to depict a character that undergoes a gradual, undeliberate change of fundamental proportions like Das Leben der Anderen is able to with Wiesler will often be the most dramatically powerful. I would also make the claim that the effect is even more elaborated when we're dealing with a low-key, constrained character like this one. Through the masterful acting by Ulrich Mühe, the emotional outlet of Wiesler is restrained until a point where he no longer can hold back. Mühe's is a totally overwhelming performance. The other leads are also strong, and the many intense relations across the comprehensive gallery of characters make the drama both diverse and challenging. There are a few special ones; my pick would be the implicit understanding exhibited in the meetings between Wiesler/Sieland. An understanding that is ultimately transferred to the Dreyman/Wiesler-relation - even though the two never actually meet.
Das Leben der Anderen has elements of comedy and tragedy, but although it to a large degree is constructed as a latter, in the end this is a lot more uplifting and rewarding movie. The warmth and delicate combination of nostalgia and positivity is all due to von Donnersmarck. The tone of the film is the icing on the cake. A cake that can boast abundance of layers, historical importance, discussions of a string of important political and social questions, and a new writer/director who is able to use his wonderful characters to underline his very distinct, but rich thematics. One of the best films of the year.