Petra Epperlein, armed with her microphone, looks for answers to her father's suicide in Karl Marx City.
KARL MARX CITY (Petra Epperlein, Michael Tucker) 89 minutes. Some subtitles. Opens Friday (March 17). See Listing. Rating: NNNN
Given the recent Wikileaks bombshell, the CIA is looking like a pretty skilled exploiter of technology for the purposes of citizen surveillance. Thing is, Communist East Germany exercised total control over its citizenry without such fancy machinery. Its tools? Cameras of all kinds – and fear.
East German-born, U.S.-based Petra Epperlein returns to Germany with a film crew to find out why her father killed himself in 1999 in their hometown of Chemnitz, once called Karl Marx City. Her biggest fear is that he may have been about to be exposed as an informant for the infamous Stasi security police.
It was not out of the question even for the kind of warm, loving man he was. In their small but bustling industrial town, there were more than 92,000 security officers and 200,000 informants, the latter embedded in every aspect of life. It was said that if three people were sitting together, one had to be a spy.
The Stasi were everywhere, operating mostly before the fact – randomly entering homes and rearranging furniture, opening mail, anything to keep the citizenry in line.
The documentary follows two threads. In one, Epperlein talks to experts on the Stasi. An eerie sequence takes her inside the security fortress where researchers are plumbing the 4.5 million files to understand the breadth of the state’s activities – and where she hopes to get information about her father.
In the second, she reconnects with her mother and twin brothers, who vividly describe what it was like to live in a permanent state of anxiety.
Epperlein wields her microphone as if it were a weapon for revenge. And she and co-director Michael Tucker shoot in black-and-white, which lends the film a sense of authenticity and strange beauty.