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“The Lives of Others.”

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"It is for me."
Curious that writer/director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck has claimed that his debut "The Lives of Others" was urged on by disgust with the phenomenon of ostalgie, nostalgia for (and the kitschification of) life in the German Democratic Republic. The only complicated sentiment in von Donnersmarck’s exasperating Stasi-era drama could be a precursor to that melancholic longing. Years after the film’s main intrigues have passed, the Berlin Wall has fallen, and the remaining characters have dazedly folded themselves into Western life, playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) encounters a former GDR official outside a performance of one of his own plays. The man once came close to destroying Dreyman’s life, but now they are just two more German citizens killing time in a theater lobby, and he turns to Dreyman and pitilessly points out that Dreyman hasn’t written anything since the crumbling of the Republic.

We do see Dreyman finishing something new before the film’s end, but the point is fair — nothing will ever again have the urgency or thrill of the subversive essay he has smuggled out of the country for publication during the film’s first setting in 1984. And certainly one can’t imagine that anyone will invest as much attention in his career of a playwright as the East German government, who send Captain Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe) to wire the apartment Dreyman shares with his actress girlfriend Christa-Maria (Martina Gedeck). Ostensibly this is because some see subversive potential in the previously loyal Dreyman; in reality, a higher-up has designs on Christa-Maria and would like an excuse to get Dreyman out of the way. As Dreyman begins to harbor doubts about the regime, Wiesler is seduced, with outrageously watery-eyed romanticism, by the music and literature he’s unwillingly exposed to while quivering in his headphones at his surveillance post in the attic of the apartment building.

He’s also, less adorably, drawn in by the glamour of the couple’s lives — Dreyman and Christa-Maria flutter around their high-ceilinged apartment like stylish birds of paradise, reassuring us that arty people are more attractive, more interesting and have better sex. In contrast, Wiesler goes home to a life that is colorless — literally, in the case of his grim Soviet-chic apartment and bachelor’s instameal — and has a sad encounter with a busy prostitute that ends with him begging her in vain to stay a few minutes longer. It’s a fatal flaw of "The Lives of Others" that the world it depicts never seems reasonably inhabited — von Donnersmarck recreates a sense of overwhelming oppression but never gives us an inkling of life grinding on and mostly functioning despite it. Everyone government-aligned is vindictive, corrupt and, as an added bonus, physically repellant or, in the case of Wiesler, scarcely alive, devoted to the job for lack of anything else. Dreyman, on the other hand, has actually been living quite comfortably in willful blindness until he chooses otherwise, at which point the sympathetic Wiesler starts covering for him — but even he’s spared any uncomfortable toeing of the party line. Would it be so terrible to acknowledge some people, somewhere, must have believed in the GDR? Von Donnersmarck’s unsparing absolutes make it tough to believe the characters wouldn’t have immediately shaken off the system, a folie à plusieurs that would clear right up with a full night’s sleep and some hot tea.

"The Lives of Others" opens in limited release on February 9th.

+ "The Lives of Others" (Sony Pictures Classics)

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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