Is it just us, or is Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's The Lives of Others just okay? Perhaps a wee bit sentimentalized, somehow too narratively pat, a little prefabricated? Well no wonder it’s received excellent notices across the board.
But there's more to say about it:
“Curiously—or perhaps not—the four decades of economic hardship and political oppression endured by the citizens of the former German Democratic Republic have, in the years since reunification, given way to "Ostalgie," a pervasive nostalgia for life in the GDR (see, as an example, Wolfgang Becker's smash-hit, international award-winning comedy Goodbye Lenin!). Whatever its modest virtues and minor flaws, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's similarly lauded, Oscar-nominated debut feature The Lives of Others offers a refreshing corrective to this nostalgia, albeit one steeped in a sentimentalized uplift all its own.”
Click here to read the rest of Chris Wisniewski’s review of The Lives of Others.
But...have no fear, due to a strikingly non-coincidental release schedule, you have the option of seeing instead Nina Toussaint and Massimo Iannetta's more restrained, considered, and haunting documentary about, basically, the same subject matter, The Decomposition of the Soul, now playing at Film Forum.
"By returning to the scene of the crime, Decomposition" recalls 2003's S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine, in which two survivors of the Cambodian genocide revisit the camp where they narrowly escaped death. The difference between the films is conceptual and strategic: in S21 the survivors confront their former captors who must somehow explain their horrific practices, even if no explanation can ever be satisfactory; but in Decomposition only the victims inhabit the eerily empty Berlin-Hohenschonhausen, currently serving, like S21, as a memorial."
Click here to read all of Michael Joshua Rowin's review of The Decomposition of the Soul.