Movie of the Month: Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others) (2006, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck)
The winner of the 2006 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film certainly deserved it. Beau's been ragging on me to see this for something like a year, and I had it at home from Netflix for three months (I have a bad habit of putting off foreign movies because I can't look away from the subtitles and my kids distract me a lot).
It was worth the wait. Wiesler (Ulrich Muhe) works for the East German secret police, the Stasi, and bugs the houses of artists and writers, documenting their activities to see if they're western sympathizers. At times I forgot I was watching a German movie, since it's easily compared to McCarthyism in America.
Wiesler follows the lives of a playwright and his girlfriend and becomes increasingly sympathetic with them, and is forced to start making some difficult choices.
The playwright, the girlfriend and various other secret police and artistic types all turn in fine performances, but Muhe is the clear star and commands attention any time he's onscreen. According to IMDb, the script particularly resonated with Wiesler, since he as a theater actor was observed by the Stasi, and he later found out that his wife at the time was registered as an informant. Sadly, the film that launched Muhe from a supporting player to a lead actor proved to be one of his last, as he died in 2007 at age 54 of stomach cancer.
The script is near flawless and the whole thing leads to a satisfying and yet utterly believable ending.
I can't recommend this one enough.