A city symphony (of sorts), an elliptical personal essay and a meta--history lesson, Amie Siegel’s examination of surveillance culture during the dog days of the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR) takes sideways swipes at the former nation’s fascistic practices. From the A/V archives of the Stasi secret police, the director unearths a gold mine: Interrogation footage, Super-8 snippets of field agents pretending to be James Bond, and videos of average citizens being watched paint a chilling picture of life under a repressive regime. Every deliberately paced tracking shot through cold modernist spaces and past ominous-looking architecture (what is up with that polyp-like Panopticon lifeguard station?) is a worth a thousand paranoid words. But alas, there are also words, and when they come, courtesy of our tour guide, the problems begin.
Siegel’s art-world reputation rests on these kinds of cine-semiotic explorations, but her screen presence, pseudo-intellectual narration and grating monotone are deal-breakers. Godard she is not; Siegel is closer to a self-conscious grad student who lets interesting tangents (a traumatized therapist, East Germans who regularly dressed up as Native Americans) go on too long and whose attempts at reflexivity, like a staged argument among the film crew, puncture the film’s hypnotic spell. There is a stunning mediation on sleek surfaces that hide social rot and technology hijacked by Big Brother; you just have to bypass the film’s creator to get to it.—David Fear