Who says Socialism is dead? In the past 24 hours I’ve watched two films that while on first glance have very little in common, actually compliment each other quite well if viewed back to back. I’m speaking of Woody Allen’s made for T.V. movie, “Don’t Drink the Water” and Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck’s “The Live of Others”. And in case you think I’m joking … that is his real name. (And here’s me thinking that you couldn’t get a more German sounding name than the Team Germany player named Mertesacker – which if you pronounce it really fast, sounds something like “meatersacker” … at least it does to me.) Both films are quite good (which is surprising for one of them, and not so much for the other) and manage to create intriguing premises within the backdrop of the Socialist run U.S.S.R. and East Germany.
I put off watching “Don’t Drink the Water” a few weeks ago because I didn’t really consider it a “film” by Woody Allen. After all, he made it for T.V. But as it turns out, the film is actually very funny and quite possibly better than many of his later comedic works. The absurdity of the situations that the characters find themselves in within the film, lends itself to hilarious story beats and fantastic one-liners. (The film is about an American family accidentally being mistaken as spies in the U.S.S.R. and having to take refuge in an American Embassy, eventually leading to their speedy and ill-planned escape from the country.) I’d even go so far as to say the film offers up one of the funniest performances that Allen has given throughout his entire career. His timing and delivery is dead on in this film, and everyone else, from Michael J. Fox to Dom DeLuise are on top of their games as well. The film is most assuredly trite, but boredom should be so entertaining.
“The Lives of Others” is socialism viewed from the complete opposite end of the spectrum. This film was released two years ago to absolutely rave reviews, and as it turns out, ones that were well deserved. It has all the momentum of a glacier, but thankfully it’s also as dense. There’s just so much going on in every scene, and the staging, directing, writing, and acting is all pitch perfect. You might expect a film about the Stasi (Secret Police) in East Germany to be more exhilarating, and that’s certainly a way that Von Donnersmarck could have gone, but he instead chose to make a poignant film about the possibility of hope and rehabilitation in a world that crushes the ideas of these very things. Maybe it’s a little fictional in these optimistic outlooks, but the great thing about the medium of film is its ability to transport you out of the real world and into a world that could be. “The Lives of Others” manages to do this while also reminding us of our own culpability in creating the world that we do live in, one that is far from perfect.
Check these two films out, you won’t be disappointed.
“The Lives of Others” trailer: