One of the best films of last year is now on DVD

According to The Lives of Others (available on DVD August 21), life in East Berlin in 1984 was, appropriately enough, like something out of Orwell. Directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, the movie focuses on a Stasi (secret police) officer following through on what appears to be an easy surveillance assignment: to watch a popular playwright and his actress girlfriend. Of course, as we learn, nothing is ever simple — and neither are anyone’s motives.

All of the actors turn in fine and restrained performances, particularly the sympathetic Ulrich Mühe (sadly, he passed away in June). These days it’s a rarity to watch a film as expertly executed as this one — the director keeps a tight rein on the action, with every complicated and increasingly emotional twist starkly and elegantly rendered. (And once you’ve seen the film, read the fascinating critique of it, linked below, by Germany expert Timothy Garton Ash.)

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WATCH the trailer for The Lives of Others

READ Timothy Garton Ash’s essay “The Stasi on Our Minds” from The New York Review of Books

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One of the best films of last year is now on DVD