For all of you who were outraged when Pan’s Labyrinth lost the Best Foreign Film Oscar to The Lives of Others, you can see the latter film this week and take comfort in the fact that it’s pretty good, too. And if that doesn’t work, you can take comfort in the other Oscars that Labyrinth won.

The Lives of Others is set in 1984 in Communist East Germany, where the secret police, or Stasi, have electronic eyes and ears everywhere. A Stasi agent named Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe) is assigned to conduct surveillance on Dreyman (Sebastian Koch), a successful playwright whose socialist credentials seem unimpeachable. Wiesler soon learns that Dreyman is only being watched because the minister of culture lusts after the playwright’s girlfriend and lead actress (Martina Gedeck), and is looking for some dirt to bring Dreyman down.

Writer-director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (his full name is much longer) tells this in a stripped-down fashion and leavens a downbeat story with some unexpectedly farcical notes. When Wiesler sizes up the situation, he starts to sympathize with his targets and to intervene in their lives in God-like ways. There’s a terrific performance from Gedeck (last seen as the secretary seducing and spying on Matt Damon in The Good Shepherd), but it’s Mühe’s subtle and oddly touching performance that forms the heart of this film, as this cold and robotic man suddenly grows a conscience just before his country comes out of the dark.


The Lives of Others runs Mar 23-Apr 1 at Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, 3200 Darnell St, FW. Tickets are $5.50-7.50. Call 817-738-9215.