52nd Chicago International Film Festival Screening #14: “Karl Marx City” (Germany)

“Karl Marx City” (Germany)
Directed by Petra Epperlein & Michael Tucker

karlmarxcity_03Okay…if you start a film with a title card that states the images and sounds we are about to see were taken directly from Stasi (East German Secret Police) archives..here’s an idea…how about using some.

“Karl Marx City” is the story of the director, Petra Epperlein‘s search to discover whether or not her father was a Stasi informant after his unexpected suicide. This very personal, and, in my view, utterly pretentious, documentary lived up to almost none of its premise nor promise. Instead of family intrigue and Cold War history, we get a woman inexplicably walking all around her former home with a boom mic covered by a furry wind screen while wearing headphones. There is no explanation for this, and it gets old really fast. She does this both inside and outside…and while interviewing every one of her subjects, including her family and major historians. It is a bizarre choice which, alas, screams “this’ll be SO poignant” film-school pseudo-intellectualism. Worst of all, the huge payoff is, in fact, simply a shrugged “meh”…not that the journey to get there was all that interesting.

The score, by Alex Kliment, closely resembles a triad of Kraftwerk, Einstürzende Neubauten and SPK…which in and of itself sounds really interesting. But in context of the film, it is migraine-inducing and brutally repetitious.

Oh, and the film takes a shot at one of the greatest German films of the last fifteen years…the Oscar-winning “The Lives of Others”…for romanticizing the Stasi era. Listen, far be it from me to argue against someone critiquing a historical film of their own culture…but as one of my favorite films that I’ve watched maybe a dozen times, I never thought of it as romanticizing anything…it is an utter damnation of that era. So, even there, you’re left scratching your forehead.

Positives? It is an extremely well-photographed film. Yeah, that’s all I got.

OH! The closing credits feature clips culled from the secret Stasi archives. Mesmerizing! Could’ve used a lot more of that in the prior 72 minutes.

No trailer available.

Written on 11/1/2016

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