In 1983 East Berlin, dedicated Stasi officer Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe), doubting that a famous playwright (Sebastian Koch) is loyal to the Communist Party, receives approval to spy on the man and his actress-lover Christa-Maria (Martina Gedeck). Wiesler becomes unexpectedly sympathetic to the couple, then faces conflicting loyalties when his superior takes a liking to Christa-Maria and orders Wiesler to get the playwright out of the way.
The drama focuses on the state security apparatus and the cultural scene in East Berlin and also takes a serious and critical look at the history of the GDR. It takes up the theme that true art is able to bring out the good in people and draws the possibility of reconciliation between victims and perpetrators. The most important roles are played by Ulrich Mühe, Sebastian Koch, Martina Gedeck and Ulrich Tukur. The production was made with a relatively low budget and unusually low actors’ fees.
The critics gave the acting performances the highest praise. Many reviewers expressed satisfaction that after a series of comedies about the GDR, a feature film finally dealt with the subject in a serious style.
The film was showered with awards, including the 2006 German Film Award (seven prizes out of eleven nominations), the Bavarian Film Award (in four categories) and the European Film Award (in three categories) as well as the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.