First, a mini-review of sorts... 'The Lives of Others', a German language film directed by Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck, is an astonishing work. It tells the story of an officer in the East German Stasi, a secret police force numbering 100,000 at the peak of its powers. The main drama unfolds when our officer is ordered to begin surveillance on a famous playwright and his actress girlfriend, for they are suspected of sympathizing with the West. The odd, asymmetrical intimacy that forms between the couple and their silent observer forces the trio into some difficult decisions. As I sat there in the dark, watching the film unfold exquisitely upon the silver screen, the following thought occurred to me: freedom must be a special thing indeed for so much great art to be created in its tribute. For there in the steely greys, and suffocating tyranny of East Berlin, surely lies a wrenching love letter to liberty. This picture's ending provides a moment so pure in vindication, in white, hot joy, that it gripped me, full force along the neck with a rush of goosebumps. And yet, it is not the best moment this movie has to offer. That honor belongs to the scene, much earlier, when the playwright, upon hearing that a friend who has hanged himself rather than face continued persecution by the Stasi, plays a piano piece entitled 'A Sonata for a Good Man'. It is a sequence of quiet, true mourning, that will be immediately recognizable to anyone who has felt the cruel injustice of death having come too soon. The until-now rigid face of the spy, listening in on his prying headphones, breaks, releasing a single tear along his cheek, like the first drop of icy winter turned spring. In a way this movie is just like that: it lets us watch the first fissures, and then the cracking, dripping melt of a place that was once too cold for anything as precious as freedom.
Okay, moving along to that most excellent topic of foreign policy: reports indicate that America has reached a tentative deal with North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program in exchange for increased energy aid. This is an unqualified diplomatic victory for the Bush Administration, a frequent target here at the Ross Review, and we don't mind saying so. Kudos are in order, for if Kim Jong Il holds up his end of the bargain (not a certainty, as the recent past instructs us) the United States will have succeeded, peacefully, in ridding the world of its most odious nuclear power (Pakistan runs a close second). This development, however, will not suspend my consistent and vitriolic criticism of Kim Jong Il in this space. For with or without the WMD's, Mr. Jong's country is still a shameful, disgusting cauldron of human rights violations. And we will continue to mention that fact until the North Korean people are free.
Elie Weisel, distinguished chronicler of the Holocaust, and Nobel Laureate, was accosted in a hotel in downtown San Francisco this past week. The attack ended when Mr. Weisel shouted for help, spooking his assailant. That octogenarian Jewish intellectuals remian walking targets for violence in american cities is, at the very least, disquieting. Another reminder that the sad, ugly specter of antisemitism lives on, and that we are right to identify and ridicule it whenever it shows its ghastly face.
COMING THURSDAY (The DVD just arrived!): A better-late-than-never review of 2006's best film: Half Nelson