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Category:    Home > Reviews > Thriller > Drama > Cold War > The Lives Of Others (Sony Blu-ray + DVD)

The Lives Of Others (Blu-ray + DVD-Video)

 

Picture: A-/B-     Sound: B+/B-     Extras: B     Film: B

 

 

Remember the old beer commercial in faux black and white (it looked like a color shoot with the color removed) where the clown dances around with subtitles in a letterboxed image (more radical in its day before widescreen TVs or films were common in the home) asking the immortal question “why are foreign films so… foreign?” as the makers prove they have no grasp of Fellini’s ?  That still is remarkably the stereotype of many import films, but some recent releases prove quite the opposite.

 

Besides Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, writer/director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s The Lives Of Others (both 2006) not only tear down the “foreign” myth, but are genre works with even more to say.  Others is a remarkable film (winning the 2006 Best Foreign Film Academy Award) about the final years of East Germany, the communist/socialist police state that was the last police state standing as the USSR thankfully imploded.  Knowing this in advance makes the films arc all the more ironic and intense.

 

Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) is a pro-Socialist playwright supposedly above suspicion, but under the ultra-Stalinist Stasi secret police, everyone is a target of some kind.  His girlfriend Christa-Maria (Martina Gedeck) and him are living as happily together as they can and she is a top actress who lands up in his plays.  However, when a top corrupt official starts hitting on her and expecting sex for protection of her domestic situation, things start to slowly turn.

 

Georg has no idea about most of what is going on, but a top Stasi official named Hauptman (Ulrich Mühe in a very tough role) starts uncovering the infidelity, then becomes a voyeur whose loyalties to the state become slowly compromised as his personal needs start to supersede a his feeling about a life he is not totally happy about or honest to himself in his unhappiness with it.  The resulting film is a smart thriller, smart political parable and deep character study that impresses throughout.

 

Those familiar with The Cold war or Cold War cinema will know some of what is coming, but it is refreshing that a piece about that era can still be done with intelligence and suspense while reminding us of a period that is being shockingly forgotten much too quickly and the danger of repeating the wrong parts of the past.

 

The cast of this German production is believable, terrific and helps make the impressive screenplay all the more credible.  Home theater and film fans need to make this a must-see and its reputation is only going to become greater and greater.  Along with Breach and The Good Shepherd, The Lives Of Others is another great Cold War film that can only make me hope we are getting into a new cycle of suspense films.  Don’t miss it!

 

The 1080p 2.35 x 1 digital High Definition is terrific, despite some minor stylization.  Director of Photography Hagen Bogdanski shot this in real anamorphic Hawk Scope, which is why this is immediately one of the best looking new films in either High Definition format and is certain to be one of the one of the best Demo Blu-rays for years to come.  As compared to most overdigitized, Super 35mm (especially genre films) releases, this will be a revelation.  Other films like Alpha Dog (see my HD-DVD/DVD review on this site), Star Wars: Episode One – The Phantom Menace (in its better shots), Blood Diamond (see my HD-DVD review on this site), Danny Boyle’s underrated Sunshine and the grossly underrated House Of Mirth (which Sony should issue on Blu-ray immediately) have all benefited from this underused, underrated process.  Bogdanski also gets the idea that the wide scope frame does not necessarily mean freedom and though this does not get as claustrophobic as The Parallax View, the look and feel of the film is constantly involving.

 

Both versions offer Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes, but the Blu-ray has a much better PCM 16/48 5.1 mix that is especially involving.  I also liked the character of the mix, the Gabriel Yared/Stéphane Moucha score and other smart choices in scoring and sound effects.  Though it does not try the sound mix moments of The Ipcress File, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Coppola’s The Conversation or De Palma’s Blow Out, it is up there with such films where sound is an important factor.  Extras include seven deleted scenes with and without optional commentary, on camera interview and separate feature length audio commentary with Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck and a making of featurette.

 

 

-   Nicholas Sheffo


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