Sunday, February 18, 2007

Movie: The Lives of Others (2006)

Extraordinary. There’s no other word for this movie, an Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Film. It hit me so hard that I wanted to take a long walk afterward and talk about it. Fortunately, Rosemarie felt the same way and it wasn’t raining.

In 1985 East Germany, a Stasi officer is ordered to monitor a playwright, “the only non-subversive writer who’s still read in the west,” as a favor to a cabinet minister with designs on the writer’s actress girlfriend. The more he learns about the couple’s relationship, the more the gray government man is drawn into their lives.

Screenwriting is often called a craft as opposed to an art, and once upon a time I bristled at that description. Now I embrace it. Writer/director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, in addition to possessing one of the world’s great names, is a master craftsman. His script is a marvel of engineering, with every detail serving more than one purpose in a way that’s both economical and expansive. The story culminates in an extended epilogue set after the collapse of the Berlin Wall that is low-key and utterly devastating. That final sentence ...

The Lives of Others provides an object lesson in the contributions of the wardrobe department; for much of the movie, the Stasi officer wears a coat so mesmerizingly ugly that it seems to represent all of the evils of Communism. And on that subject – politics, not hideous outerwear – there’s a certain stripe of far-left American that’s thick on the ground in this neck of the woods. The kind that gathers in fair-trade-only coffee shops to yammer about the industrial uses of hemp. (Screw the historical perspective. Just admit that you want to smoke pot. You know it, I know it, the American people know it.) I’ve heard these types say with withering condescension that there is no freedom of expression in this country. Let’s hear them spout that after seeing this movie, in which paying respect to a fallen friend not only requires daring acts of subterfuge, but ones that must be accomplished while dressed in unsightly jackets. Damn hippies.

Miscellaneous: Links

A pair of longish but interesting articles in New York magazine, courtesy of 2 Blowhards. First, Po Bronson on the right way to praise children. Then, Emily Nussbaum considers the generation gap spawned by the current need to document every aspect of one’s life online, no matter how personal or potentially embarrassing. Inspired by this latter piece, I will now admit that I appear in a series of artful nudes posted on the web. You can find them by searching for either my alias – an anagram of the name of one of the members of the 1974 Philadelphia Flyers – or the distinctive headgear I’m sporting in most of the photographs.