I've been trying to make an effort to skip around with times and genres lately; however, upon learning today that German film star Ulrich Mühe passed away from stomach cancer at the age of 54, I decided to post about some of his films today instead.
Fact is, I've only recently become acquainted with Mr. Mühe's work over this past year. I saw two of his films, both of which made me excited to see where he would go next and how these recent opportunities may open some new doors for him. Sadly, that will not come to pass.
The first of the two films of his I watched was a film I knew nothing about when making my film selections for last November's Cineworld Film Festival. I only know that there was a film playing that was going to be Germany's submission for the Best Foreign language category, called The Lives of Others.
I'm glad I saw the film with no preconceived notions about what it was about, because this one blew me away. I distinctly remember sitting there, having to use the facilities, but holding on for dear life because I didn't want to miss anything or disrupt the flow.
The story is set in 1984 East Germany, where the Stasi have complete and total control of their citizens -- more than they even realize. The Stasi is keeping many people under surveillance to monitor their activities, unbeknownst to them. Their apartments are bugged and big brother is listening in on every conversation, every argument, every movement, and ready to move in at the first hint of subversive activity.
Mühe plays Gerd Wiesler, one such Stasi officer. He is one of their most by-the-book officers, and not someone to be fucked with. He is assigned to monitor the activities of a playwright, Georg Dreyman, and his actress girlfriend, Christa-Marie Sieland. Through monitoring their lives, he becomes drawn in and fascinated by them, and begins to have a moral crisis about what he's doing, and from there, he becomes dangerously too involved, and things go spiraling out of control with tragic consequences.
Once I left the theater, I knew that this was the film that needed to win the Oscar. I figured it had a good chance as the material would play well to the Academy, despite their often questionable taste. However, it didn't seem to have the momentum that Volver and Pan's Labyrinth had going for them at the time.
And a big part of my love for the film laid squarely with Mühe. He gave an amazing performance. Just his facial expressions and eye movements were fascinating.
Luckily, the Academy saw through the hype and awarded this the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film. This will be released on DVD on August 21, and if you have not seen it already, do yourself the favor. It's well worth it, and hopefully, you will get to see how brilliant of an actor Mühe was.
The second film in which I saw him was actually a Netflix choice from 1998 called Funny Games, which was directed by Michael Haneke, who later went on to direct the brilliant Cache. The film is rather sadistic, and despite some flaws here and there, it's utterly captivating in many ways, though, I've also heard it referred to as "the best film I would never recommend to anyone."
Basically, a family goes off to a resort town, and find themselves held hostage and terrorized by a couple of young men, who come over at first to just borrow some eggs. What follows is quite harrowing. In this film, Mühe plays the patriarch of the terrorized family. Mühe is quite good, as is the rest of the cast. This is a hard film to discuss without giving away anything that may shock or surprise later, but if you like your thrillers dark and unflinching, this one might just be for you.
One thing that is important to note is that BOTH of these films are being remade for American audiences, so please catch these now, as it may just wipe out any notoriety Mühe holds. I'm less concerned about Funny Games, since Michael Haneke, the original director is also directing the remake, which is to star Naomi Watts and Tim Roth (in Mühe's role). However, The Lives of Others remake (set for 2010 and directed by Sydney Pollack) is something I'm just saddened by. I just see them fucking it up royally. (complete side note, but I'm even more concerned about the other Haneke film I mentioned, Cache, which is being remade by Ron fucking Howard, which is just a recipe for disaster.)
But I digress... I was really saddened to learn of Mühe's passing today, and hopefully, people will discover how brilliant of an actor he was before the original films are passed over for inferior remakes.
R.I.P Mr. Mühe. You will be missed.