The Lives of Others (2006)—Germany
This debut film from the thirty-three year old German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarckf won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film for its portrayal of life under East Germany's stasi or secret police. At the beginning of the film you are convinced that Captain Gerd Wiesler has to be the most merciless and manipulative interrogator possible. You would not want to be alone in a room with this man. He even teaches classes of young recruits about his craft. By the end of the film, the lives of others have impacted his own lonely life, and Wiesler has become a compassionate human being who bucked the system. How his surveillance activities triggered this radical transformation is the subject of the film. All the supporting characters and plots are essential to the film's success and not just add-ons: the writer Georg Dreyman and his actress-girlfriend, Crista Maria Sieland, upon whom Wiesler spies; Wiesler's boss Grubitz, who embodies the socialist bureaucracy without equivocation; and an even higher up Minister of Culture, who wants Crista for himself. The paranoia, the careerism, the sense of hopelessness, and civic fear are all palpable in 1984 East Germany. In German with English subtitles.