In the Dark

The Personal Is Not the Political

The Lives of Others
Produced by Bayerischer Rundfunk and Creado Film
Directed and written by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics

Breach
Produced and distributed by Universal Pictures
Directed by Billy Ray
Screenplay by Adam Mazer and William Rotko

Anyone who wants to know what it is like to live in a police state should hasten to see The Lives of Others, the winner of this year’s Oscar for best foreign film, an unexpected recognition from the Academy’s usually purblind judges.  This compellingly cold-eyed German film made by first-time director-writer Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck tells the story of an implacable agent in the infamous Stasi (the East German secret police) assigned to monitor a young thespian couple suspected of straying from the Marxist script.  Becoming their unseen audience of one, he unexpectedly witnesses a personal drama that threatens his political convictions.

By 1984, the German Democratic Republic had brought George Orwell’s vision of the totalitarian state to still life.  Figures vary, but most commentators agree that the Stasi employed 100,000 souls and commanded another 200,000 wretches as freelance informers, willing or not.  This meant that there was a snoop for every 50 citizens in this workers’ paradise, each...

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