I’ll add my praise to the fantastic debut feature ‘The Lives of Others‘. It really is a remarkable film.
For those of you who haven’t seen it, it follows the story of a Stasi Officer assigned to bug and follow the life of a writer under suspicion in 1980’s East Germany. Through what he overhears about the lives of others, his own life is turned around. In short, literature and music are his salvation, his guides to self discovery.
It is incredible to think that all this was going on just a few years ago and not so many miles away. The French had their WW2 resistance, the Spanish their civil war, the Italians their own troubles. We in Britain have been spared any such strange goings on: governments listening in to your every move, networks of informants, phone taps and systemic distrust…. Or we had until recently.
I was fortunate enough to end up going to see the film with my sister, who happened to bring along a house-mate who actually grew up in East Berlin at precisely this time. Chatting afterwards – he absolutely loved the film – what was interesting was his suggestion about what the film had shied away from.
“The Stasi were petrified of two things, really: capitalism and the Catholic church. It was being a Christian that really made you a threat to the authorities.”
He has first-hand experience: two brothers both locked up for years for trying to escape to the West. Both of them having their freedom mysteriously ‘bought’ after 9 months in jail by the West Germans, and taken in. He still has no idea who paid for these ‘undesirables’ to be taken off the FDR’s hands, in exchange for some much-needed cash, but he thinks a group of West German Christians raised the money.
What is interesting then, is that the locus of irritation and salvation is shifted in the film. Art saves, not religion. Art is politically challenging, religion isn’t. No mention is made of faith at all in the 163 minutes. This isn’t the fault of the film-maker; he had a story and has told it brilliantly. But, as my sister’s friend said yesterday, there are still some equally extraordinary stories of redemption and persecution to come out of that time. Who will tell them?