J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Sundance ’17: Kaputt/Broken—The Women’s Prison at Hoheneck (short)

Exploiting vulnerable labor for profit is everything socialist propaganda crusades against. Yet, the exploitation of the inmates at Hoheneck Prison helped keep the financially ailing East Germany from completely imploding. Of course, in reality there was nothing democratic or republican about the GDR/DDR. Survivors of the abuse and exploitation tell their tales in Alexander Lahl & Volker Schlecht’s black-and-white animated short documentary, Kaputt/Broken—The Women’s Prison at Hoheneck (trailer here), which screened at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.

The Brutalist architecture of Hoheneck screamed East German oppression—and the insides lived up to the outside. It was perennially overcrowded, because at least politically-motivated arrests in the DDR consistently ran above quota. Daily life was a mixture of routine humiliation and grinding toil to make their production quotas in the prison’s bed linen sweat shop.

Kaputt/Broken is a powerful seven-minute indictment of the socialist system, executed in an evocatively severe style that could be described as a cross between Honoré Daumier and a Stasi dossier. Yet, perhaps what is most striking is the grimly poetic language taken directly from original oral histories of Hoheneck survivors.

Conditions at Hoheneck were simply barbaric, but the bitterest pill for the former political prisoners to swallow is the fact the West helped underwrite their torture by buying Hoheneck’s garments. The Wall has fallen, but the victims of the socialist East clearly remain traumatized. That lingering pain comes through clearly in the haunting short. Schlecht’s animation is almost perversely elegant, while the minimalist sound design heightens the eerily tragic vibe. Very highly recommended, Kaputt/Broken won the Short Film Jury Award for Animation at this year’s Sundance. It next screens February 17th and 19th during MoMA’s Doc Fortnight.

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