In a low-key example of high irony, LOCKED-UP TIME charts dogged filmmaker Sibylle Schonemann's quest to interview the officials who oversaw her detention, trial and imprisonment under the laws of the former German Democratic Republic.
The film opens at a nearly abandoned border control station that is being torn down by some of the same workers who originally put it up, and with the comment that a "job is a job," they express more happiness at their current work than their past achievement. Schonemann even catches a few
sarcastic words from a former border guard who makes sure his face isn't caught by her camera. That border post, she informs viewers in a voiceover, was the one through which she passed in 1985, when with 40 other political prisoners, she was sent to West Germany as part of a quasi-official ransom
Born and raised in Potsdam, it was Schonemann's and her husband's request to leave East Germany that caught the attention of the State Security Service or Stasi, from the German Staatsicherheitsdienst). Their emigration request evolved from the repeated rejection of their film projects at DEFA,
the state-owned East German film studio, also located in Potsdam, where they worked.
Retracing her steps, Schonemann then takes us to the small town of Hohenleuben in the Gera region, the site of the most modern prison in the former republic. Staffed by a skeleton crew, the prison still stands as the town's outstanding feature and Schonemann revisits the facility's textile
workshop and the resident warden or "educator" who has cast off her captain's uniform for the sake of a sympathetic interview. With a thin lipped smile, the warden can't remember any of the salient details in Schonemann's prison life, and when asked about the denial of a maternal visit or of her
husband's letter, she refers to this or that obscure regulation.
Returning to Potsdam, Schonemann recalls the nighttime arrest that introduced her to a prison in the center of the town that she had never known existed where a moralistic aphorism from Lenin still adorns the wall. Her preliminary detention resulted in a very brief hearing at which her violation
of Article 214 of the Criminal Code was confirmed and she was held for further questioning. Sitting in the same prison cell with her former cellmate, Brigitte or Punkt, they now laughingly recall how they discovered that each was a political prisoner. They also recall their interrogations, and the
filmmaker even sights her former questioner in her view-finder.
Portly with narrow slit-like eyes, but a soft, almost insinuating, voice, the former interrogator is seen doing his laundry and calmly promises to speak with Schonemann at a later date, but then angrily waves her camera away. Her only really successful interview is with one of the three judges who
found her guilty. That man admits his cowardice in the interpretation of law apparently drafted with just such cases as Schonemann's in mind. The courtroom in which she was condemned is now abandoned, a litter of chairs and a disconnected phone with the wreathed hammer-and-compass seal of the East
German Republic still on the wall.
In an effort to discover the sources of the evidence at a trial, a thick folder of memos and depositions, Schonemann revisits DEFA where her former supervisors and colleagues seem to have helped incriminate her and her husband. The former director general of DEFA is very friendly, offering her his
handshake and even waving cheerily at the camera, but then is unavailable for the interview he had promised to give. Moving further up the chain of bureaucratic command, Schonemann discovers a former Stasi lieutenant colonel, Peter Gericke. Now living in his summer house as a forester, Gericke
talks willingly with the former political prisoner. He argues smoothly that accepting all the laws and regulations of the former government of necessity demanded the use of political police and their "partners," as he calls the many informers who made the work of the security service that much
In closing, Schonemann visits the lawyer who had acted as an intermediary in her release and transit to the Federal Republic. The files in his office, he claims, concern some 35 thousand political prisoners. Despite the recent changes in Germany, the filmmaker and her family continue to live in
Hamburg where they had relocated after their year in prison.
Sybille Schonemann's film is a study in subtleties. Since there was no physical torture or abuse and her term of imprisonment was relatively short, her story emphasizes the details of arrest and the ambiguity of the law and her status. The narrow exercise yard at the Hohenleuben prison and the
specially designed vans with separate cells for each prisoner hint at the importance of political offenders to the state. Schonemann has told interviewers that she suspects she was arrested in order to discourage her fellow filmmakers at DEFA from emigrating and to stifle any dissident opinion at
LOCKED-UP TIME breaks the thin ground of the complex relationships among the citizenry of the former Communist republic where paternalism rivalled dictatorship as the major impulse. For some time this may be the dramatic theme of increasing numbers of films from East-Central Europe. (AdultSituations.)
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- Released: 1992
- Rating: NR
- Review: In a low-key example of high irony, LOCKED-UP TIME charts dogged filmmaker Sibylle Schonemann's quest to interview the officials who oversaw her detention, trial and imprisonment under the laws of the former German Democratic Republic. The film opens at a… (more)