The controversial Foreign Language winner was to receive a remake nearly a decade ago.
Best Foreign Language Feature is always a hotly contested award during Oscars season. Not only does the Academy get which films to nominate wrong, but then the winner is announced. One of the most controversial contests was between Pan’s Labyrinth from Mexico and The Lives of Other from Germany. It was supposed to be the big moment for Guillermo Del Toro, bringing home an Oscar for his country. In a shocking twist, The Lives of Others won, bringing a cavalcade of ill will from audiences who had never seen the film. If The Weinstein Company had anything to do with it, American audiences would see the film soon enough.
It’s not unusual for a Best Foreign Language Feature nominee to receive an English language remake. 2009 winner, The Secret in their Eyes, was remade into a poorly received 2015 film by the same name. 2016 favorite Toni Erdmann is set to star Jack Nicholson and Kristen Wiig marking a return to acting for Nicholson. It wasn’t much of a surprise that The Weinstein Company wanted to jump on one of the most popular foreign features at the time. A team was set up to bring the picture to life. Director/writer Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck was to be joined by the team at Mirage Enterprises.
Mirage Enterprises was formed in 1985 by director Sydney Pollack on the eve of the release of Out of Africa. It was in 2001 that he added Anthony Minghella as a partner in the venture. Minghella had directed many films for Miramax/The Weinstein Company including The English Patient, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and Cold Mountain. Both men were familiar with Weinstein and could deliver the project. Sydney Pollack had told Variety what he was hoping to achieve with The Lives of Others remake. “We would just desperately love for that film to be something that reaches more people (via remake),” he expressed. Pollack and Minghella would not get the project rolling.
Anthony Minghella died from a hemorrhage in March 2008 following an operation he had to remove cancer from his tonsils and neck. Then in May of that year, Sidney Pollack lost his ten month battle with cancer. Both heads of Mirage Enterprises were lost within three months. The only producer left on the project was Donnersmarck. The death of Minghella and Pollack singled trouble, but the project continued to be optioned until 2011. Without Mirage Enterprises at the helm and The Lives of Others losing cultural relevance every day, the time for a remake has passed.
The sudden death of the producers led to the film getting shelved, but The Lives of Others would always be a difficult film to remake. The film wasn’t just a solid screenplay that could be adapted; it was a film that excelled because it was German. The Lives of Others was set in communist East Germany when the Stasi were paranoid about dissent, so they were wiretapping apartments. Given that was the entire crux of the film, the English language remake would probably be English speaking characters in the same situation. Not the most compelling reason to remake a picture as brilliant as this one.
Often in Oscar races, two films get tied together as combatants throughout the proceedings, and that battle continues for the life of those films. Whether it be La La Land and Moonlight, Crash and Brokeback Mountain, or even 12 Years a Slave and Gravity, the contest joins films in history. That is the case for The Lives of Others and Pan’s Labyrinth. Pan’s Labyrinth had an unheard of six nominations for a Foreign Language Film and was a sure-fire bet to win the coveted award. When it was announced that The Lives of Others would take home Best Foreign Language Feature instead, audiences have been comparing the films ever since. In actuality, both films stand the test of time and remain groundbreaking for their respective countries.
Over a decade since its release, it doesn’t look like The Lives of Others remake will ever get off the ground. Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck keeps the rights to his picture and continues to direct films in Germany. Donnersmarck has a new movie premiering in Germany this year entitled Work Without Author that has him reuniting with the team behind The Lives of Others.