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Academy Award Winning Foreign Film
to Screen at UW-Eau Claire Dec. 6-9

RELEASED: Nov. 30, 2007

EAU CLAIRE — "The Lives of Others" (Germany 2006) — an absorbing drama that enjoyed a season of universal acclaim and commercial success that culminated in its receiving the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year — will be presented Dec. 6-9 at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. The International Film Society will present the film at 6 and 8:30 p.m. Thursday through Sunday in Davies Theatre.

At once a political thriller and character study, "The Lives of Others" begins in East Berlin in 1984, five years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and takes us to 1991, in what is now a reunited Germany. The film traces the gradual disillusionment of Captain Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe), an experienced and trusted investigator for the Stasi, East Germany's all-powerful secret police. His mission is to spy on a celebrated couple, playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) and actress Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck).

Five years before its downfall, the former East German government (known as the GDR, German Democratic Republic) ensures its claim to power with a ruthless system of control and surveillance via the Stasi, a vast network of informers that at one time number 200,000 out of a population of 17 million. Their goal is to know everything about "the lives of others."

A devoted officer and expert interrogator, Wiesler is instructed to collect evidence against the famous playwright, who is unique in being popular in the West while appearing to be loyal to the East German government. While Dreyman is away from his home, his apartment is systematically bugged and Wiesler sets up his surveillance headquarters in the attic of the building. While monitoring all of Dreyman's activities and observing the day-to-day life of the couple, the stoic agent begins to be drawn into their world. His own status as an impartial agent of the GDR is put into question, and his immersion in "the lives of others" makes Wiesler acutely aware of the shortfalls of his own existence.

"German movies produced after the reunification generally, and strangely, depict the GDR as funny or moving," said writer-director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck in discussing his debut feature. "Both my parents came from the East, so as a child I was often in East Germany to visit friends or relatives. A cousin of my father's had been named chief of protocol of Erich Honecker, the East German head of state ... Other people we knew had very normal jobs, yet one could see the fear in all of them, right up to the end of the regime. Fear of the Stasi, fear of the 100,000 highly trained employees whose sights were trained on one thing: 'The Lives of Others,' the lives of those who thought differently, who were too free spirited and, above all, the artists and people working in the arts."

One such artist was Ulrich Mühe, a charismatic veteran of the German stage and screen who drew on his own experiences under Communism for his star-making performance as the morally conflicted Wiesler.

"Almost as extraordinary as Mühe's complex and understated portrayal," wrote the Daily Telegraph of London, "was that Mühe himself had found evidence, from Stasi files opened after German reunification, that he had been under surveillance not only by four of his fellow actors in the East Berlin theatre, but also by his former wife, the actress Jenny Gröllmann. Like the playwright and his girlfriend in the film, Mühe and Jenny Gröllmann had once been East Germany's golden couple: stars of the Berlin stage who fell in love while making a film (a love story) and got married in 1984. The Stasi file on Mühe recorded in meticulous detail the meetings which Jenny Gröllmann, allegedly a Stasi 'inoffizielle Mitarbeiter' (registered informer), had with her controller over several years."

When asked how he prepared for his role in the film, Mühe replied, "I remembered."

Only weeks before participating in the Oscar ceremonies at which "The Lives of Others" was the surprise winner over "Pan's Labyrinth" as best foreign-language feature, Mühe had been diagnosed with stomach cancer. He died in July at age 54.

In German subtitled in English, the 137-minute film is rated R.

Admission is $2 for International Film Society members and UW-Eau Claire faculty/staff, or $1 for UW-Eau Claire students. Tickets are available at the Service Center (715-836-3727) in Davies Center's east lobby and will be sold at the door.

-30-

JS/NW

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