Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Unmanageable Heart

The failures of attempted communist states lay in the inability of any bureaucracy to account for the complexity and mutability of personal character and human behaviour. The 1966 East German film Trace of Stones (Spur der Steine) demonstrates this intelligently with one story that encompasses both the professional and the private spheres. And yet its makers were surprised when the ruling communist party suppressed the film. After a brief premiere in 1966, it wasn't seen again until 1989.

Perhaps one reason the filmmakers were broadsided by the censorship is that the film does not ostensibly condemn communism and in fact portrays party members as good people and the effort to create an effective communist government a difficult but worthwhile endeavour. Perhaps in creating three dimensional characters, the filmmakers simply unwittingly exposed fundamental flaws in the system.

The film centres on a love triangle among people involved in an East German construction project--the two men are Hannes Balla and Werner Horrath, the woman is named Kati Klee. Balla is essentially the head of a construction workers' union, to appearances the leader of a gang. He and his men dress in matching vests and broad brimmed hats and have a reputation for amoral behaviour. The film opens with the group of them skinny dipping in a public fountain.

So Horrath's brought in, a man placed in charge of regulating morality. He's a clever strategist and colluding with Klee, who also works in the project's administration segment, he uses her feminine charm to bring Ballas over to his side. Ballas and his men are generally vulgar and provocative in the way of construction workers around a pretty woman but we see quickly the simple hearted Ballas has really fallen for Klee.

And so has Horrath, which is unfortunate since he's already married and has a child. This sort of behaviour for anyone would be trouble but for the man in charge of administering morality it's especially disastrous.

Horrath is portrayed as incredibly weak willed. Of course he constantly tells Klee he'll divorce his wife, and of course he consistently doesn't. In much the way he was unable to restrain himself with Klee he's unable to take the big step with his wife. The problem becomes unavoidable when Klee becomes pregnant with Horrath's child.

Initially portrayed as a reckless misanthrope, Ballas becomes the moral centre of the film, perhaps a reflection of communist sentiments about the working man. He genuinely wants the construction to go forward smoothly, he supports Klee with simple hearted affection despite knowing she bears Horrath's child, and in spite of what Horrath's done he strives to keep Horrath in his position because he knows he's the best man for the job.

It all remains for Hermann Jansen, a high ranking party official, to sort everything out. But while he comes off as a man of unquestionable virtue, who sees into Ballas' heart and recognises a good and honest man, there's ultimately little he can do about Klee's and Horrath's situation that would make for a tidy ending for a movie, perhaps the principal reason the movie was soon suppressed--it was too true.

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