The Lives of Others ★★★★

At its height, East Germany’s Ministry for State Security — the infamous ‘Stasi’ — had around 100,000 full-time employees and recruited, by fair means or foul, hundreds of thousands more ‘informants’. Ordinary members of the public were coerced into spying on their friends, family and neighbours; some through their love for the Communist system, but most through blackmail or fear of disappearing into a forgotten cell. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that this story begins in the Orwellian year of 1984.

This year’s Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film, The Lives Of Others is European filmmaking at its finest and proof — after Downfall, Das Experiment and Good Bye Lenin! — of an exciting renaissance in German cinema. But while Good Bye Lenin! took a lighter, more nostalgic stance on a nation divided by the ideological reality of the Berlin Wall, this focuses on the inevitable human tragedy at the heart of a regime that treats everyone as a potential enemy. It reveals a paranoid political system whose iron grip is in a chokehold around its own throat, forcing its best artists into exile, cultural compromise or suicide.