In Germany, "It's forbidden by law to deny the crimes of the Nazis," observes historian Hubertus Knabe, "But it's almost forbidden by custom since reunification to really discuss the crimes of the regime that turned East Germany into a prison." Hence, a huge hit in Germany was "Good Bye, Lenin!" -- a sweet comedy inspired by the misbegotten Ostalgie fad (nostalgia for the East).
The German drama "The Lives of Others" shows what we've been missing. Perhaps the best movie of 2006, this debut by a 33-year-old, 6'9" writer-director with the heel-clickingly Teutonic moniker of Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck depicts life in 1984 under the eyes of the Stasi secret police. They employed one percent of the East German workforce directly and two percent as secret informants.
In a masterful opening segment, Wiesler, a thin-lipped, middle-aged Stasi functionary, conducts a textbook interrogation of a hapless citizen accused (and, in effect, already convicted) of not snitching on a neighbor planning to escape to the West. When the prisoner protests his innocence, Wiesler replies, "If you believe we arrest people on a whim, that alone is enough to justify your arrest." The secret policeman is played with charismatic restraint by East German actor Ulrich Mühe (who had discovered in his Stasi files in the 1990s details about himself reported by his wife). [More in the issue]