New Yorker critic Anthony Lane‘s review of The Lives of Others is one of his best ever — eloquent, compassionate and appreciative of every last echo in this awesomely fine film.
“If there is any justice, this year’s Academy Award for best foreign-language film will go to The Lives of Others, a movie about a world in which there is no justice,” he begins. “It marks the debut of the German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, of whom we have every right to be jealous. First, he is a stripling of thirty-three. Second, his name makes him sound like a lover with a duelling scar on his cheekbone in a nineteenth-century novel. And third, being German, he has an overwhelming subject: the postwar sundering of his country.
“For us, the idea of freedom, however heartfelt, is doomed to abstraction, waved by politicians as if they were shaking a flag. To Germans, even those of Donnersmarck’s generation, freedom is all too concrete, defined by its brute opposite: the gray slabs raised in Berlin to keep free souls at bay.”
The final scene, he says, is one “of overwhelming simplicity and force, in which the hopes of the film — as opposed to its fears, which have shivered throughout — come gently to rest. What happens is that a character says, ‘Es ist fur mich’ — ‘It’s for me.’ When you see the film, as you must, you will understand why the phrase is like a blessing. To have something bestowed on ‘me’ — not on a tool of the state, not on a scapegoat or a sneak, but on me — is a sign that individual liberties have risen from the dead.
“You might think that The Lives of Others is aimed solely at modern Germans — at all the Wieslers, the Dreymans, and the weeping Christa-Marias. A movie this strong, however, is never parochial, nor is it period drama. Es ist fur uns. It’s for us.”