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German film about secret police wins Oscar

Germany’s “The Lives of Others,” a searing look at totalitarian powers once wielded by East German secret police, the Stasi, won the Oscar for best foreign language film Sunday.
/ Source: Reuters

Germany’s “The Lives of Others,” a searing look at totalitarian powers once wielded by East German secret police, the Stasi, won the Oscar for best foreign language film Sunday.

The film by first-time filmmaker Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck won rave reviews for its portrait of a Stasi agent who, while bugging a couple’s home, develops an unexpected sympathy for them.

The film was a favorite for the award, along with Mexico’s ”Pan’s Labyrinth.” But a surprised von Donnersmarck, 33, said he had expected “Pan’s” to win, since it had already won three Oscars. Also in contention were Denmark’s “After the Wedding,” Algeria’s “Days of Glory” and Canada’s “Water.”

Von Donnersmarck’s film has been hailed as an intelligent, honest look at how East Germany’s Stasi shattered lives.

The New Yorker magazine summed up much critical comment when it said, “If there is any justice, the Academy Award for best foreign film will go to ’The Lives of Others,’ a movie about a world where there is no justice.”

Although his film swept last year’s “Lola” awards in Germany, the Oxford-educated filmmaker said in a recent interview with Reuters he hoped an Oscar would give the film more exposure and “signal power.”

“An Oscar is the ultimate symbol of recognition so it means everything,” he said. “Everybody in the world dreams of winning an Oscar, even people who don’t work in films.”

Von Donnersmarck, who grew up in New York, West Berlin, Frankfurt and Brussels, said he hoped the film ultimately would be respected “as informative, a thriller and love story.”

The film exposes how the Communist state invaded people’s lives before the Berlin wall fell in 1989.

“I was happy it worked against this whole new phenomenon in Germany that people feel nostalgic for the East and start glorifying the Communist past,” he said. “But at the end of the day it is about the cinematic experience.”

As a first-time feature director, Von Donnersmarck attracted Academy Award-winning composer Gabriel Yared and some of Germany’s top actors to his tale about the officer assigned to spy on a playwright and his actress girlfriend.