New York Magazine


Decomposition of the Soul
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The documentary The Decomposition of the Soul, which plays from February 7 to 13 at Film Forum, provides a very harsh landing. Directed by Nina Toussaint and Massimo Iannetta, it's a hushed, poetic meditation on the life of Stasi prisoners in which two former inmates, Hartmut Richter and Sigrid Paul, traipse in and out of empty cells and interrogation rooms in the Berlin-Hohenschonhausen, which operated from 1951 until the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. As they softly relay their stories—of sleep and sensory deprivation, of the interrogators' sadistic tricks, of the dangling of false hope, the camera fastens on stools, desks, and other ordinary objects. We fix on them the way the prisoners must have, grasping for solidity in a fast-dissolving world.

"The decomposition of the soul" is the goal of a Stasi incarceration, the promised end for an enemy of the state, and there is something about the movie's pacing—the silences, the drone of the narration ("The name of your enemy is hope  ")—that wears you down. Sigrid Paul remembers how she found a loose thread and spent hours twisting it into different shapes—until the guards burst in, took it away, and took her mattress away for good measure. How brilliant of the Stasi to give new meaning to the phrase "hanging by a thread." —Reviewed by David Edelstein, New York Magazine