KARL MARX CITY (2016): Review by Jan Lisa Huttner

In this new collaboration from award-winning filmmakers Petra Epperlein and her husband Michael Tucker, Petra returns to her hometown in the former East Germany in search of her father’s Stasi files. Riveted documentary artfully explores the intersection between personal history with public memory. (JLH: 4.5/5)

Review by FF2 Editor-in-Chief Jan Lisa Huttner

In this stunning new documentary by award-winning filmmaker Petra Epperlein (working once again in collaboration with her husband Michael Tucker), a child of East Germany — aka the German Democratic Republic aka the GDR –digs into her father’s Stasi files. Who will she find there? Will she find the man she remembers… or someone entirely different?

Those familiar with research on the Holocaust have learned the surreal truth about modern German history: They documented everything! And so, just like those fascinated by the Holocaust, those fascinated by the post-WWII period under Communist control (1949-1990) can bury themselves in archives and never run short of new revelations.

“Stasi” is shorthand for the German Democratic Republic’s State Security Service. In other words, the German term “Staatssicherheitsdienst” became “Stasi” through this abbreviation: Staatssicherheit (“State Security“). Those who know the German language appreciate its penchant for compound nouns. Those who don’t will just have to take Wikipedia’s word for it.

After the reunification of Germany in 1990, most people did their best to forget the internal dynamics of life in highly-regulated East Germany. But Petra Epperlein cannot forget, and so she embarks on a perilous emotional journey. She is not only afraid of what she will find, she is also burdened by the stress she is placing on her mother and brothers. They cannot tell her not to do it — and even if they asked her to stop, she is already too obsessed to comply — but they know the consequences of Petra’s quest must eventually be shared.

Therefore, Karl Marx City succeeds as a documentary precisely because it so artfully blends so many complex moral dilemmas. What are our responsibilities as citizens, as children, as siblings? How do we weigh our responsibilities to others against our responsibilities to ourselves and our own internal demand for Truth (capital T).

As paper vanishes and more and more information becomes trapped in a cyber “cloud,” our admiration for those crazed Germans can’t help but grow. Why did they retain all of this paper — now available to new generations — when so much of it is so damning? Their nearest and dearest may come to despise them, but these insights into some of the darkest eras in human history are invaluable.

© Jan Lisa Huttner (4/7/17) FF2 Media

Photo Credits: Epperlein/Tucker & Bond/360

Q: Does Karl Marx City pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test? 


Although Petra does spend most of her one-on-one time with her mother Christa discussing her father’s life (and death), Christa is also forthcoming about her own memories of life in the former East Germany.

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