An engrossing docu on the lives of three thirtysomething Germans following a failed attempt by two of them to escape the East in the days before reunification, Thorsten Trimpop’s “The Irrational Remains” is a powerful study of how politics can permanently damage the psyche. Pic’s unusual tale is neither the most challenging nor revealing to emerge from those years, but its sensitivity and craft should guarantee it a place in political sidebars.
In 1986, 20-year-olds Susanne Stochay and Matias tried to escape, but were picked up by the Stasi at the border and imprisoned. Matias’ girlfriend (also called Susanne) decided not to join them, and so remained free. Following their release –he’s sent back to the East, Stochay to the West. The three do not get together again until the shooting of docu. The chronology is approximately linear, with canny editing playing off the differing reactions of the three against each other and allowing the multiple tensions in the situation to emerge slowly and painfully.
Docu alternates between the characters telling their stories to the camera, and footage of them revisiting the prison and, in the case of Matias’ g.f., her old school. All are articulate; no voiceover is required.
Upbeat, engaging escapee Susanne laughs uncontrollably as she reads an absurd official report on the case, refers to her shoplifting as a girl as “socialist shopping,” and is more affected by the personal consequences on the relationships among the three and their families. The other Susanne seems marginalized and embittered. But both are more balanced than Matias, who 20 years on remains unable to shake off his demons and gives guided tours around the prison: One poignant scene has him weeping as he reads a letter from his father, unsent at the time of his arrest.
Pic’s strongest card is in its decision not only to focus on the awful adventures of the two escapees, but also on the complex emotions of the one who stayed behind. Pic reps an attempt at catharsis for the protags, and sometimes makes for uncomfortable viewing. The three are united in their hatred of East Germany, but divided in their attitudes toward one another, and pic’s aim to bring them together on a symbolic bridge at the end looks doomed to fail.
On a less personal level, pic is valuable for its documentation of the Kafkaesque horrors of imprisonment — for example, inmates were expected to sleep on their backs and were monitored through the night to make sure they were doing so. But pic can be a little cruel itself — one old dying man in a hospital is merely there as a pretext for the reflection that life is “significant but unimportant.”