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From Lenin to the Oscars

Oscar SpecialThe father came from East Germany to India 30 years ago looking for his estranged daughter who had become a hippie, living with her mother in Switzerland while he was rising as a cabinet minister in the former communist country.

After a three-month search for the daughter, the man -- whose name I don't remember -- met her in a hippie camp in Nepal. She told him she had no intentions of returning to her mother, and certainly did not want to live in East Germany. 'How can one live in a country that had land mines around its Western borders so that its citizens wonít flee?' She had nothing but contempt for the country that had also installed the infamous Berlin Wall to prevent defections to the West.

Any story of estranged parents and children is sad, but this one also had a scary element. For the father had come to India under the pretext of writing a book on the Indian economy which he eventually got published in East Germany. His real purpose, though, was to look for his daughter and persuade her to give up drugs and free love.

I mention this to Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, pictured here with his wife. The director of chilling political thriller and pulse-quickening human drama The Lives of Others -- Germany's foreign film nominee at the Oscars -- shakes his head vigorously, perhaps wondering at the father's audacity and risk. He is surprised that the notorious East German secret service Stasi had not figured out the manís real mission.

Stasi, which Donnersmarck describes as the most savage secret service anywhere in the world, also plays havoc with the main characters of his film.

"The Nazi secret service was made of hooligans who beat the daylights out of anyone," Donnersmarck says. "The Stasi played relentless psychological games. There was nothing as pervasive and evil like Stasi in the Communist world. There were 300,000 Stasi members who spied on 17 million people in East Germany." Friends spied on friends, wives passed on the secrets of their husbands, and children did not spare their parents, says the 34-year-old filmmaker who grew up in West Germany and whose parents had moved from East Germany to the West.

Text: Arthur J Pais | Photographs: Getty Images, film stills | N V Reuben & Uday Kuckian

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