The Stasi official assigned to the attic above Dreyman’s apartment, where he obsessively listens in and meticulously logs every detail of his mark’s life, is Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler, played with touching stoicism by the late Ulrich Mühe. Wiesler is a true patriot, a man who’s horrified to discover his mission is the result of Hempf’s grubby infatuation and his boss Anton Grubitz (Ulrich Tukur) views it only as an opportunity for advancement through the ranks. Disillusioned but impotent to defy his superiors, Wiesler conscientiously sets about his task monitoring Dreyman, and slowly uncovers the potential fallibility in everything he’s been brought up to hold dear.
Von Donnersmarck’s remarkable film unfolds at a glacial pace, helmed by a reserved and immaculate portrayal by Mühe as a man who begins as the bogeyman under the bed, and ends up as the guardian angel overhead. A rare protagonist in the motion picture industry – someone who doesn’t tirelessly, endlessly talk, but intently listens.
It helps, of course, that the sense of period and terrifying political environment is superbly realised, and that cinematographer Hagen Bogdanski goes all out in de-romantiscising the palette with dour greens and greys. Recipient of the 2006 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, The Lives of Others, especially in this time of increasing concern at state surveillance, is unreservedly, most essential viewing.