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THE LIVES OF OTHERS - An apt introduction to world cinema

Satyen K Bordoloi, Bollywood Trade News Network
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LIVES OF OTHERSThere's a lot brewing in India under 'World Cinema'. The playground of a passionate few has suddenly been invaded by capitalists with big dollars in place of eyes. Yet, for the Bollywood and Hollywood movie buff, there is confusion. What IS World Cinema after all, and where does one begin?

Fortunately a film playing in theaters near you, THE LIVES OF OTHERS, will do just that - introduce you to World Cinema. The uninitiated may allow herself to be swayed by the Oscar hype of the movie (it won the coveted Best Foreign Film Oscars last year besides 47 other prestigious international awards and 24 nominations), but for those who know their cinema, there are parallel worlds on offer in this film.

THE LIVES OF OTHERS pulls in the viewer right from the first frame, and the minor problem of reading subtitles – if any, is soon lost. Also, the films focus on actions, rather than words and sermonizing helps it hold the viewers attention till the very end.

Gerd Wiesler, a staid agent of the Stasi - the East German secret police who want to know everything about the lives of others - is assigned the responsibility of watching over a poet-playwright, Dreyman and his girlfriend Christa. Dreyman's house is bugged with microphones and Wiesler listens with rapt attention but is unable to find anything to incriminate Dreyman. However, after the suicide of friend and banned theatre director, Jerska, the pacifist Dreyman is confronted with questions he had so far shied away from. As he undergoes a transformation and begins writing an article on the unreported suicides in East Germany, Wiesler is closely watching, both Dreyman and his senior comrade minister Hemph who forcibly extracts sexual favour from Dreyman's beautiful and talented actress girlfriend. As he listens to the lives of others, the frustration of artists and the corruption of his comrades become apparent, and Weisler himself undergoes a gradual transformation. But what can one man do against an entire system bent upon persecuting a fragile artist? Lots, as you will find out in the movie.

At the face of it 'Lives…' is a taut political thriller. But it is also a love story, the love of the artist for expression and on a worldly plane, the love of three men for one woman, Christa. Dreyman truly loves her, Minster Hemph lusts on her, and Wiesler admires her art and wants her to continue. The three men's lives and actions get intertwined to the actions of this one woman, and what she does or does not do, what she says or does not say, will ultimately have a deep impact on all three.

The film is symbolic in a lot of ways. It's an Orwellian world and as if paying tribute to author George Orwell and his creation '1984', the film begins in 1984, through to the final fall of physical borders and communism with the Berlin wall. The humour is caustic, with the funny moments used to extract people's motives and degradations. First time writer director Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck is suitably aided by a cast that gives a powerhouse performance, especially Ulrich Muhe who plays Wiesler and has been a discovery for cinema lovers world wide.

The film walks the tight rope of merging personal and political history. Yet, at the end of it, it is about personal choice under the hegemony of oppression, about the purity of ones beliefs, the conflict with the state out to stifle free speech, and the fight between doing what is easy, and what is right.

Despite being a thriller, the film is rich in emotional content. Indeed, so rich, that it's few flaws, are masked under its cloud.

World Cinema is cinema where films do not teach, do not preach but present the most basic of human emotion in the subtlest of ways. It is about characters, plots and actions that you could put in any environment and yet would achieve the desired impact. A good World Cinema film has a cathartic effect. Often an effect of healing bruised souls. A kind of epiphany. THE LIVES OF OTHERS is one such film.

The film minces no words or emotions or expression, nothing is wasted… not one frame. Nothing is without a purpose. Yet, unlike popular cinema, this does not mistrust its audience by spoon feeding it. The film charges you emotionally and yet leaves a lot behind with you. And in that sense, it is a perfect introduction to someone who has not lost ones World Cinema Virginity.

How can one film talk about so many things, love, freedom of expression, democracy, individual choice, rebellion, heroism, sacrifice and redemption at the same time? You have to see THE LIVES OF OTHERS to find out.

It has been a bold move on the part of Bharatbala Productions to acquire a film without a big banner, or brand or star to back it up, for release in India. One only hopes that the film makes them money, so that the culture of good cinema, now into your Television sets thanks to many so called World Cinema channels, can also spill over to a theatre near you.

THE LIVES OF OTHERS releases on the 29th of February

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