Monday, January 23, 2012

Three Colors: Red (Krzysztof Kieslowski)


With its beautifully multi-layered drama and its great sense of closure, "Three Colors: Red" is quite easily the best film in Krzysztof Kieslowski's "Three Colors" trilogy. It stars the beautiful Irene Jacob as Valentine, an easy-going fashion model, and Jean-Louis Trintignant ("The Conformist") as an enigmatic retired judge who eavesdrops on his neighbors' private lives by way of wire-tapping their telephones and successively playing them in his speakers as if a series of radio shows. Although the relationship between Valentine and the judge is peppered with psychosexual tension, which my more cynical mind, to a certain extent, reminds me a lot of the relationship between Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter, the film, albeit the enveloping intrigue and mystery that surrounds the whole film's premise, is a hopeful exercise in love and human warmth.

Out of the three films, I think that "Three Colors: Red" is the most immediately relatable but at the same time also the most cryptic (the questionable actions of the retired judge). We can relate with the adventurous Valentine because, unconsciously, we are also her because by any chance our car may ran over a dog and find out that the wounded animal has a name tag with an address in it, we will immediately return it to the owner, which in this case is the judge. This is how Valentine and the mysterious judge met, therefore forming a bond forged out of curiosity and developed out of the immediacy of human connection.

For some filmmakers, with this kind of characters, a twenty-something girl and a sixty-something man, it's enough grounds to create a relatively pretentious romance. But Kieslowski, himself about to reach sixty years of existence himself (which he never did when he suddenly died in 1996) by the time this film, his last one, was released, knows better by instead playing this type of character relationship with dramatic assurance, wisdom and lots of heart. Of course, it's not without a hint of tragedy and a sense of isolation, which both "Three Colors: Blue" and "Three Colors: White" has finely established in different perspectives.

But aside from this filmic relationship, Kieslowski also has something much trickier to pull off: how to coherently tie up the three films while also giving his current characters enough breathing space to wrap up their own situation.

On one side, we have the budding emotional involvement between Valentine and the privacy-invading judge. On the other, there's also a young judge named Auguste (Jean-Pierre Lorit), whose life, in many ways, closely mirrors that of the judge's and who's currently involved in a run-of-the-mill romance with a personal weather reporter.

At surface viewing, "Three Colors: Red" may look like your typical film by way of how it tackles love and existence at different viewpoints, sometimes in bliss, sometimes in pain. But Kieslowski has created his characters to fit an urgent inevitability to unconsciously interconnect. In this idea of intertwining of fates, Kieslowski has already gave us a tease by mistakenly letting Julie (from "Three Colors: Blue") enter the courtroom where the divorce trial between Karol and Dominique is taking place in the beginning of "Three Colors: White". There's also the hunched old lady (who appeared in all three films) immersed in a mundane difficulty: The camera and the characters always catch her laboriously trying to put an empty bottle inside a trash bin; a prominent figure in the whole trilogy that has been, in a way, the barometer of the protagonists' characters. (Julie merely looked at her in puzzled sadness while Karol minutely smirked at her predicament. Only Valentine has the basic courtesy to help her put the bottle in the bin).

In this film, it has truly, as they say, come in full circle.

But not in the way how a generic ensemble film may. Sure, the film may have discoursed about the general outlook of love by way of those two (bliss and pain) extremes, but the film is a minuscule observation of love and life at the same time as it is a far-reaching, 'what if' meditation on time. In the end, "Three Colors: Red" relies on the singular choices and plans of its characters instead of giving the responsibility to an invisibly omniscient hand to move the likes of Valentine and the judge as if indifferent chess pieces. And for that, the film was uniquely pragmatic.

After 'liberty' and 'equality' were tackled through individualistic perspectives by way of Julie and Karol in the two previous films, "Three Colors: Red" was able to brilliantly put these stories, stories of people striving through all too human flaws, in a holistic harmony even in the midst of a tragedy. This may very well be the significance of 'fraternity' in the whole film, but "Three Colors: Red" is also quite aware of another infinitely more transcendent thing: destiny. Again, with its fascinating visionary depth and articulate human drama, "Three Colors: Red" is the best film in the trilogy, and is also a fitting swan song for Krzysztof Kieslowski, who sadly passed away far too soon.


Three Colors: White (Krzysztof Kieslowski)

The secret in his eyes.

A slight departure from "Three Colors: Blue's" transcendent and melancholic tone, Krzysztof Kieslowski's "Three Colors: White", representing the middle color in the French flag which symbolizes the virtue of equality, is humorous in its study of sexual weakness and subsequent redemption. The film opens with a trial scene involving Karol Karol (Zbiegniew Zabachowski), a hairdresser who has, ever since his marriage with his wife Dominque (Julie Delpy), failed to sexually consummate their love.

With his numerous insecurities and sexual inferiority plaguing their marriage and also are the things that are responsible for putting him on the pitiful end of a divorce, just like Julie's isolation in "Three Colors: Blue", he has withdrawn himself from the main stream of existence. But this time, this isolation is never a strengthened choice. Pushed into the streets with a frozen bank account and only a large, almost empty suitcase to live with, he is a definitive image not of emotional bravery (unlike Julie) but of defeat.

But as fate permits it, he meets Mikolaj (Janusz Gajos), initially a mysterious Polish lad who has soon became his friend. Unlike the previous film which broods about loneliness and repeatedly hints on isolated sadness, our protagonist here in "Three Colors: White" is also a lonely little chap but with a trusted pal. Although of course inserted by Kieslowski more importantly as an initial plot device (this film is, after all, the most plot-reliant of the trilogy), the Mikolaj character slowly transforms from being a hazy character with questionable intents into a surprisingly upbeat light that has been most instrumental for Karol's new lease on life, which is the same equivalent of what Karol is to Mikolaj. And in this friendship that was built in a time of utter tribulation, there's the cause of it all: Dominique.

Julie Delpy, who I have first seen in "Before Sunrise" as the intelligently vibrant and sweet Celine, is unbelievably cold and indifferent as Dominque. At times she even looks and feels like a femme fatale. But Kieslowski, veering away from the shallow dimensions of character stereotypes, treated Dominique not as the aggravator of the situation but also as a victim of circumstances. Just like every wife, Dominique only wants sexual and emotional fulfillment in her marriage. But Karol, ever the shy sexual weakling, never properly took on the role of an accommodating husband.

From what I've noticed, "Three Colors: White" was very well-known as a revenge film as much as it is recognized internationally as the only comedy film in the trilogy, albeit a dark one. For many, this certain 'revenge', planned by Karol to give Dominique her deserved comeuppance (the catalyst being the time when he has heard her pleasurably moaning on the phone, presumably while having sex with another man), is the poetic justice that the film is looking for on Karol's part for him to attain the signified 'equality' that the color 'white' is representing. But as I look more into it, the less I give a damn about Karol's so-called vengeance scheme.

Sure, it was, for a moment, very enlightening and emotionally purging for us because we have rooted for Karol in the film's entirety. Yes, we are supposed to, but we're not compelled by Kieslowski to overly do so because he has never overlooked to give dear Dominique her own share of a beating heart.

In the end, as I subconsciously decipher the pure significance of 'equality' in the whole film and as Karol gradually changes from a vulnerable sap into a relatively powerful businessman and a confident male, the more I think that it's not Karol's quest for revenge that is the real point of the film in terms of aligning itself with the color white's 'equality' symbolism but more significantly about how Dominique, being a good wife and all (the film shows how genuinely happy she is during their wedding), gets what she deserves: a Karol who's sure of himself, is sexually assertive, and knows what he wants.

In a way, I even think that when Dominique finally found out about Karol's vengeful scheme, sure she was shocked, but she's also silently elated. With the way how her husband has handled and cleverly played the situation to manipulate the situation to his advantage and set it against her, she has realized ever so unconsciously that Karol, at that very moment, has finally become a man, the one that she's waiting to love. This therefore creates equality between the ever- loving feminine (Dominique) and the now transformed masculine (Karol), making their marriage worth all the emotional pitfalls, the agony of sexual misgivings, and the pain of relational apathy.

So surprisingly, "Three Colors: White" is not just a one-sided tale of revenge but is also an exploration of the essential role masculinity plays in strengthening a marriage. Absurdist as the film may sometimes seems to be, Kieslowski still has offered a fresh take on the thorns and roses that populates not just the spacious boundaries of love, but also the bumbling and stumbling confines of life.


Monday, January 16, 2012

Last Supper No. 3 (Veronica Velasco)

film poster

If fact truly is stranger than fiction, then “Las Supper No. 3” is a potent representation of such claim. It is a strangely relentless carnival of a film that holds the absurdist nature of life in quite a different way that the film’s narrative distortion, in its entirety, may present an exaggeratedly cavernous view of happenstance troubles but, in the end, shows the painfully funny idea that it just isn’t any farther from hard reality.

On one side, the film, directed by Veronica Velasco with comic gusto teetering on a desperate edge, is a fine fly on the wall-like exploration of the meticulousness of commercial productions. The painstakingly picture-perfect attempts in properly putting a toothpaste on a toothbrush, in choosing what t-shirt stain (for detergent products) would be ideal for both color and black and white televisions, and less significantly, in screening what Last Supper article would properly fit the wall of a corned beef commercial’s set.

And yet, ironically, it is from the latter that the film picks up the dirt and drives it head-on with legal bureaucracy, a hint of religion and pure hysteria. In the story, out of all the Last Supers that were screened, ranging from wooden depictions to tasseled ones, the one labeled as ‘Last Supper no. 1’ was ultimately chosen. But then apparently, a top frontrunner codenamed ‘Last Supper no. 3’ mysteriously and suddenly went missing. Sure, no problem, the production’s Assistant Designer named Wilson Nanawa would just pay the owners a fair sum of money. But there’s a catch: the owners are asking for a whopping 25,000 bucks. Initially, both parties agreed to a concessionary amount, but with matters unexplained like an unexpectedly bitter twist of fate, the affair eventually reaches the hall of justice, for no apparent reasons aside from the pure absurdity of it all, in a legal trial for the ages (*cough*).

From this point on, with simple solutions to resolve the situation thrown out of the window and any chances for meeting halfway dissolved into utter oblivion, the film then transforms from being a satire of commercial productions into a mishap-filled adventure of our kind-hearted and gullible protagonist, Wilson, that, in some ways, microcosmically resembles Jesus’ larger than life sacrifice in Jerusalem.

For a film filled with strong cameos by the likes of Ricky Davao, Liza Lorena, director Mark Meily, and particularly the great Maricel Soriano in a solid part and is supported by talented character actors such as Jojit Lorenzo (playing the advantageous ‘Last Supper no. 3’ owner, Gareth), comic impresario Beverly Salviejo in the role of Gareth’s mother and JM de Guzman as Wilson’s co-worker Andoy (who was also sued by Gareth for physical injuries), it is an impressive thing to see that the lead actor, Joey Paras who played Wilson Nanawa, never succumbed to pressure and never surrendered the spotlight to the immense talent that surrounds him, who was still able to come up with the best performance in the film.

Mixing sympathy for his characters’ almost surrealistic predicament and empathy for the ‘what if’ idea of letting us, the audience, think within Wilson’s shoes, Joey Paras capably internalized his character without going pretty much overboard, resulting with him performing effortlessly as the pitiful main character.

With an opening credits that evokes (at least for me) the one in “Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos” in a subtle sleight of parody (with its biblical imagery and hilariously-toned original song) and a final scene that is reminiscent of the legendary one in “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, the film, as suggested by the aforementioned films, is part drama and part adventure that is invariably peppered with pleasurable amounts of comedy that strongly hold it all together in a tight screwball that pokes fun on fate and the craziness of life, goes on to watch Wilson’s life unravel in all the wrong places, and laughs at the senseless hilarity of it all. But knowing that the Last Supper no. 3 is, until now, still missing ever since the very creation of the wretched corned beef commercial, it still leaves an undeniably disturbing afterthought as to how such a trivial object can make up such a world of trouble.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Fargo (Joel and Ethan Coen)

A cold-blooded murder.

"This is a true story".

That is the opening statement here in "Fargo" which, more or less, automatically connotes the utter seriousness of the film's noir-like predicament. With seedy criminals like Steve Buscemi's funny-looking Carl Showalter and Peter Stormare's psychotic Gaear Grimsrud initially populating the screen with their presence, and with William H. Macy's Oscar-worthy performance as the awkward car dealer/equally awkward kidnap mastermind Jerry Lundegaard making the film more fascinating to watch, it's easy to foresee the unfathomable consequences that their weird chemistry and premeditated kidnap scheme would bring about.

And with that penetrating, albeit untrue claim, it is but common for the film to depict a criminal situation with diabolic relentlessness. But Joel and Ethan Coen, even though how limiting the film's genre and premise may be, are just too darn versatile, brilliantly sardonic and oddly comic to be hindered by limitations.

As a result, not only did we get a well-executed, wildly comic crime film, but, more significantly, also an unstoppable cinematic tour-de-force that wallows in cinematic perfection, be it in terms of characterization, the desperate plot or the finely photographed (by Roger Deakins) titular setting itself.

But if there's one reason that separates "Fargo" from other films, it surely is its peculiarly rhythmic dialogue. Delivered in all its integrity by the cast, especially by Frances McDormand as the pregnant police chief Marge Gunderson in what may be the most wisely chosen of all Oscar Best Actress winners, "Fargo's" tongue-in-cheek screenplay gives it an otherworldly comic feel with an originality that makes its own stand even when compared to Tarantino's uniquely trivial dialogues that has been an alternative staple for the crime genre ever since "Pulp Fiction" altered the stream of popular cinematic culture.

The film's story, told in a narrative that mixes violence, laughs and pity, involves Jerry Lundegaard, a car dealer that is waist-deep into money-related problems, and his plan to kidnap his own wife (by hiring the aforementioned criminal duo above) so he can 'monkey business' his way into collecting a million dollar ransom, which his filthy rich father-in-law (played by Harve Presnell) would pay.

But then the Coens couldn't just allow themselves to give us a smarter, calmer and cooler Jerry or a more organized and systematic Carl Showalter and Gaear Grimsrud either because if that's the case, as common sense would always say, there won't be enough grounds for a film. Instead, they gave us a Jerry in the form of the great William H. Macy that is superficially smart, ostensibly calm and just a tad bit cooler than a panicky little rat who's merely dragging his own hide out of an unexpectedly nightmarish situation that he himself has created.

Shrouded in criminality and founded in frustration, "Fargo" is a double-sided film much like the Coens' later adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's "No Country for Old Men". On one side, "Fargo" is an individualistic tale of a cornered man nearing himself into financial crumble and unnoticeable isolation who just happened to have formulated a perverse idea as his last resort. On the other, it's your common police procedural with a not so common police chief on the bloody trails of Showalter and Grimsrud, both of which are not really the smoothest of low-lives

If Tommy Lee Jones' Ed Tom Bell in the Coens' later "No Country for Old Men" displays the elegiac sentiments of a geriatric policeman who witnesses the Texan landscapes' criminal evolution with melancholic eyes, Marge Gunderson is a fast-thinking, no non-sense woman that is wholly focused on her work that, despite of the icy entirety of Fargo, always see every day as a beautiful one.

Naturally appealing and sometimes even condescendingly-toned, Frances McDormand proved in this film that she is one of the most agile actresses out there while at the same time effortlessly integrating her portrayal of Marge Gunderson into the pantheon of great film heroines. Marge may not be the most immediately memorable but she definitely is the most unique.

As time passes by, as I repeatedly watch "Fargo", my main reason for revisiting the film is becoming less and less about the plot itself but more and more about the characters and the wonderful dialogue.

When their masterful rookie effort "Blood Simple" was released in 1984, Joel and Ethan Coen were hailed as 'fresh' talents representative of the neo-noir world. After "Fargo", it was never the same for them, and they haven't stopped since then. But out of their wonderful body of work, "Fargo", after all of these years, still stands tall as their towering masterwork.


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Three Colors: Blue (Krzysztof Kieslowski)

Calm waters.

Even though I am clueless regarding Krzysztof Kieslowski's other works before I even laid my eyes on "Three Colors: Blue", and even though how frustratingly misleading the little summary on the back of the DVD really is, I still immensely liked the film. But not in a way how I may like a straightforwardly well-written film.

Deviating from filmic conventions, although it is in fact a very linear film, "Three Colors: Blue" manages to convey the deepest of emotions not much through storytelling but more through calculated camera movements and stunning cinematography (by Slawomir Idziak). And with that, the film has managed to make me appreciate its wholeness in much the same way how a beautifully experimental musical piece may capture a music lover's heart.

With a title that suggests immediate melancholy and visuals that further this emotional atmosphere even more, "Three Colors: Blue" is more of a mood piece than it is an immediate narrative. It is, as it flexes its finely-toned existential muscles, an emotional spectrum subjectively seen through the eyes of a middle-aged woman named Julie, played by Oscar winner Juliette Binoche, who, after being involved in a car accident which claimed the lives of both her husband and child, decided to completely remove herself from the life that she has always cherished and loved.

Starting her aimless goal by selling their house, all the other things in it, and burning the difficult concert piece that her composer husband has written to commemorate the unification of Europe but sadly hasn't finished, Julie rented an apartment in a not-so-affluent part of Paris and started to live her life in utter isolation, save for some slight interactions with other people here and there (with a young prostitute being the most notable).

But even though she wants solitude, there's Olivier (Benoit Regent), a colleague of Julie's husband, who constantly shows his love for Julie but is seemingly contented by the quite sad fact that he can only show it in futile admiration. But despite of that, he is always ready to support her in the midst of her emotional plight and is also eager to finish her late husband's concert piece. For a film (again, back on the DVD's summary fiasco) that has promised utmost 'mystery' and 'seduction', "Blue" is surprisingly warm and affectionate in its romantic notions and never, even for once, stooped down to an extremely sensationalist, 'sex for the sake of it' level.

The film is also quite rich in its visual interpretation of emotional alienation and frustration. With Kieslowski uniquely using sudden fades into black in scenes whenever Julie is met with the difficulty of answering questions that may unveil what she's really feeling at moments, and ingeniously injecting blue-colored objects to enforce the film's recurring color motif, "Three Colors: Blue", as it progresses, patiently develops into a purer form of art house cinema that criss-crosses between realistic human emotions and esoteric overtones.

Form and content, message and execution, these are the most basic requirements for a film to be considered as an artistic whole. For this film, Kieslowski balances both on a very thin wire as if a cerebral circus performer, seemingly experimenting as he paces along, even with one outweighing the other, but nonetheless, a walk that is not without a clear finish.

"Three Colors: Blue", as a whole, surely is a fine piece of foreign cinema that seeks to inform its audience that there's no such thing as a generalized emotional milieu for a certain societal stream. 'Existence is isolation', Kieslowski, in part, may have had in mind as he works with this film, but it can never be denied that he has created the film with a concrete glimmer of hope and a beautiful melody somewhere in his mind.

"Blue", the first chapter of Kieslowski's "Three Colors" trilogy, is a very effective drama film about tragedy and artistry. But more evidently, it is an ideal example of how brilliant the art of cinematographic composition, partnered with some achingly beautiful music, can really be when skillfully pushed to absolute perfection.


Monday, January 2, 2012

Primal Fear (Gregory Hoblit)

The altar boy.
As much as it is a powerfully fearless courtroom drama, "Primal Fear" is a film better remembered as the shockingly brilliant cinematic debut of Edward Norton. But to limit this film solely for that fact does not do "Primal Fear" justice. True, it was Edward Norton, with his performance that I wouldn't bother to call as one of the great ones in recent memory, who has carried the film from its brutal opening scenes up to the shocking conclusion, but let's not count out Richard Gere. I have to admit that I have not watched a full Richard Gere film prior to "Primal Fear", as I've thought that, based on some snippets that I've seen from some of his works, he's merely playing himself on all of which I've partly seen. And with 'all', I mean two or three films, so they're not much for me to judge.

Nonetheless, Richard Gere is seemingly at his comfort zone playing an arrogant, cocky, scene-stealing hotshot lawyer named Martin Vail that ostensibly takes cases because he just likes the money and the attention. But with the film judging him worthy to be its hero, Gere convincingly transformed from such a charismatic prick into a silently desperate anti-hero that may or may not care for his client's fate, an altar boy named Aaron Stampler (masterfully played by Edward Norton) who 'allegedly' murdered a prominent Catholic Bishop, but still proceeded to defend him because his instinctive hunch tells him that the boy is innocent.

Meanwhile, on the side of the prosecution, there's Janet Venable, played by Laura Linney with reckless fervor and dry wit, a lawyer who takes on the role of prosecutor in the case more because she wants to keep her job (she's continually being pressured by her boss, John Shaughnessy, portrayed by John Mahoney) and less about unraveling skeletons better locked tight inside a closet. Surprisingly, both Gere and Linney had wonderful chemistry together, as their slightly humorous vibe makes the off-courtroom scenes seem to take on a bit of a comic tone, which personally makes those said scenes easier to watch even with all those barrister jargon being spontaneously thrown in the air.

"Primal Fear", with its initial narrative spark that fully promises a tangled murder story, may be much more deceptive than how you may initially think it would be. With a story (thanks to the source novel by William Diehl) that involves the Catholic Church and some muckraked revelations here and there, the film, with us viewers not knowing what we're really in for, is founded upon an evolving and sharp-edged murder case that may look isolated yet can really be something much more, but then again, can just be the other way around.

With this simple a cyclic narrative flow, "Primal Fear" has been way more effective in conveying complexity through its roundabout revelations and logical beatings around the bush to achieve a certain coherence to support a conclusion that may otherwise be deemed too simple, but one that will ironically make you ponder for hours on end even by the time the credits finally run out and all else are black.

Director Gregory Hoblit, a man whose career surprisingly never took off after this very impressive film, has painted a cinematic Chicago that's like a Gotham City that never was. Modernistic in its immediate towers and skyscrapers, depreciated in its mid-dwelling apartments and almost dystopian in its underbelly, cinematographer Michael Chapman has given Chicago a proper look to accompany the film's tone and also to disassociate and contrast the murdered bishop's posh house with those of the less unfortunate ones.

Whenever one hears the term 'courtroom drama', it's easy to expect some larger-than-life speeches given by the main characters, be it the lawyers themselves or the haplessly accused ones. We've seen Paul Muni's numbing speech in "The Life of Emile Zola", we've witnessed Gregory Peck's "In the name of God, do your duty" monologue as Atticus Finch in "To Kill a Mockingbird", and we've breathlessly beheld the lingual battle between Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson in "A Few Good Men".

"Primal Fear's" courtroom scenes, on the other hand, never had any big-time dialogue exchanges or killer monologues. Instead, facts are treated as facts, while short-handed evidence and wrong choices of words equate frustration and seem like nothing more. The film, after all, is truly more focused on what it has to unravel than what it has to say.

To succeed on film at a young age, there are mainly two extremes: it's either you're really, really good at what you do or you just had the looks (sometimes it's even a case of nepotism). Norton, with his brilliant acting chops, stumbled and stuttered his way into cinematic prominence. He surely has taken the hard way. Indeed the path of a true actor.


Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck)

Intently listening.

A second viewing.

With Francis Ford Coppola's "The Conversation" being its closest cinematic kin, "The Lives of Others", one of the decade's best films and is also a stunning directorial debut by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, is also exceptional in its well-calculated thrills and is touchingly human in its very essence, which more or less separates it from the aforementioned paranoid classic. "The Lives of Others", with its beautiful emotional center that develops and permeates throughout the film, elevates itself from merely being a strongly-acted piece about the iron-fisted times of the German Democratic Republic into a genuinely transcendent piece about the beauty and mystery of human nature.

Set in 1980's East Germany during the times when German socialism is at an all-time high, privacy invasions through surveillances a commonality, and the destruction of the Berlin Wall nothing but an unrealized fantasy. Wiesler, played by the late Ulrich Muhe in a truly underrated performance that I think should be considered as one of the best in the last twenty years or so, is a seemingly cold surveillance expert and Stasi (German secret police) agent with principles that are well-intact, objective methods for investigations that are proven to be effective, and a solitary way of life. For many years, he has been a success in his field, capable of making suspected radicals squeal the names of associates and potential inciters of rebellion against the state confess to whatever they know. But despite of his strengths and an ability to thoroughly dissect, he struggles to connect.

"Stay a little while", says Wiesler as he futilely tries to convince a cheap prostitute to stay with him after they had a stiff sexual intercourse. Ironically, he is a man that technically controls the fate of those he interrogates and wiretaps but can't even guide his own. Here is a man whose existence has been rendered almost meaningless by his work but still oblivious of the fact.

Enter Dreyman (Sebastian Koch), a playwright, and Christa-Maria (Martina Gedeck), a stage actress: a couple that has been ordered to be put under surveillance technically because of radical suspicions but is really about Minister Hempf's (Thomas Thieme), a Stasi superior, ulterior intent to personally own Christa-Maria for his own sexual fulfillment.

Wiesler willingly signed up for the former but never for the latter; and to make his situation even more conflicted, Dreyman is slowly turning into the serious GDR critic that he was always suspected to be. And to make it even worse, Wiesler is silently being drawn into the couple's personal world plagued by emotional imperfections and forces they cannot control but nonetheless proved to fit Wiesler's concept of transcendent human connection. Furthermore, it's a world that Wiesler has never experienced before let alone felt. They represent his most hidden of hopes and the very truth of his own being.

But there's one personal challenge for him: He mustn't fly too close to the fire. Should he be the silently harsh Stasi agent that he always was? Or should he be a silent crusader for the sake of what's more righteous and more beautiful, at least for him?

From such a simple character as Wiesler, in a performance by Ulrich Muhe that is brilliantly understated and flawlessly complete, "The Lives of Others" has brilliantly embraced emotional importance and an unconditional faith in humanity more than the usual conundrums of a suspense-filled affair.

Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck once mentioned in an interview (and is also mentioned briefly in the film) that he was always fascinated of the fact that Vladimir Lenin, as it was told, can't seem to bring himself into finishing the Russian revolution every time he listens to Beethoven's 'Appasionata', his favorite musical piece of all time.

If the power of art can bring or manipulate people to such momentary departures from who they really are, how powerful can it really be? But is that really the case? What if art and beauty, in fact, brings people closer into what they really are? "The Lives of Others" sided with the potential idea that humans are innately good and that humanity, for whatever it has been all throughout history, always strives for an inner truth. The oblivious Wiesler unconsciously did, and unlike Lenin, his 'Appasionata' never stopped playing.


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