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Cinema Signal: Not quite a green light but has elements of strong appeal for a limited audience.

Going All the Way:
Teenage Girls' Tales of
Sex, Romance, and Pregnancy

(Discounted Paperback from Amazon)
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[Ed. note: because of the unpredictable way accented letters are rendered
in English language browsers, they have been intentionally omitted.]
"Jerichow"

German auteur Christian Petzold follows his surreal "Yella" with this more grounded and accessible adult drama on the familiar theme of triangular love/sex dynamics. Again using his femme star Nina Hoss (in at least their third collaboration), he explores relationships in a straightforward narrative, without the incomplete dialogue and unanswered questions of his prior dreamscape. Even in a well worn classic drama remade ("The Postman Always Rings Twice," 1946, 1981 and a French version in 1985), he has a provocative way to keep your fullest comprehension abated in a tension of doubt and suspense.

Lean, buff Thomas (Benno Furmann), returning to his childhood home from a stint in the German army, is accosted by a gangster to whom he owes money. Leading him and his armed thug to his recently deceased mother's house, now his, he tries to convince them that he has no money and will get a job to pay off his debt. After a quick search of the house, the smug criminal knows better than to accept his debtor's sad story and figures out that whatever horde Thomas is hiding will be in the treehouse. And, there it is. He leaves satisfied, with a beat-up and penniless new house owner squirming in pain.

Thomas accepts work as a lettuce-picker on a local farm until, in a serendipitous encounter, he comes across Ali, a man who has run his car into a ditch. Impressed by Thomas' willingness and ability to help him--especially to the extent of saving him from an arrest, Ali offers him a job to help in his network of snack bars around the community.

Ali (Hilmi Sozer), a surprisingly good-natured entrepreneur from Turkey who personally services his franchise daily by car and truck, is very much in need of a driver after having turned down applicants for the job who couldn't pass his one-question intelligence test. He's effusive when Thomas answers the critical question correctly--though Ali will apologize later for pandering to a person obviously smart, skilled and strong. Ali is quick to bond emotiotanally with new helper.

So much so that when Thomas reports for work the next morning and lays eyes on Laura (Hoss), whom we assume to be Ali's wife, Ali accepts the look in his new boy's eye as only natural for a healthy male. But here is where the foundation of friendship and mutual need begins to crumble under the much more earth-shaking factor of passion.

Thomas and Ali's feeling toward each other is now a confusing yo-yo of distrust, admiration and shaky loyalty, which Petzold feeds with incidents of Thomas rescuing Ali so that the rich Turk must be misdirected in his growing suspicions about Laura. He leaves little doubt about how Ali feels about her when his jealousy provokes him to spy on her--not once but twice.

After setting us up to assume that Ali and Laura are married, the truth of the relationship is revealed. His need and feelings for her, he knows, aren't returned. She's there with Ali out of gratitude for a kindness he showed her involving money. But, the arrangement isn't showing signs that it will lead to the realization of his greatest wish, permanence, if not returned love. Worse, he is seriously misjudging his competitor for her affections. Or is he? One of Petzold's accomplishment here is to keep that ball in the air.

Can Ali be so beguiled that he thinks nothing of leaving his two employees alone by taking a trip home to Turkey for a few days? Is it a trap? When Thomas leaves Ali off at the airport, Ali does not board the plane.

Finally alone--when you'd think Laura and Thomas would be all over each other as they have been whenever able to snatch a moment in private--the opportunity instead focuses her on the futility she feels about their relationship's potentials. "What's the point," she asks in a sudden moment of pragmatic insight. "There would be no money."

And, so, a plan is devised that will resolve everything and which constitutes the final chapter in a process of moral degradation by way of lust. So far, it's been a fine analysis of a three-way business cum personal relationship that couldn't ever work, and Petzold brings in a surprise that no one is ready for. It bears the bitter fruit of noirish destiny and clears up matters of doubt and concern that have been dogging the atmosphere.

Petzold has a penchant for dual meanings that raise questions and push the envelope of credulity. Like why was Ali so patronizingly accepting in his recognition of Thomas's initial take on Laura? Why has he been so unsuspicious about Thomas' attraction to Laura--because he saved his life and then his hide in a potential beating?

Essentially a three-person drama, Petzold gives equal and balancing detail to each character. In the depth and understanding of each one comes a pacing that keeps us on the point of the needle of involvement in the outcome and which leaves us with a resolution that doesn't quickly dissipate. The aftereffect of the drama lingers.

Production values are spare and as down to the essentials as though it were a stageplay in an equity-wavered house (under 100 seats). It doesn't try for much in the way of visual artistry and calls for no effects. Some of cinematographer Hans Fromm's lighting in low key interiors and exterior night scenes are downright dismal. But that just leaves us to appreciate the aesthetics of storytelling style and casting and reveals how these virtues, when properly adapted to circumstances of budget and limited resources, trump all other elements.

Petzold does much with little, and the village of Jerichow, Germany has never had a greater need to watch out for its neighbors.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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Brenno Furmann, Nina Hoss, and Hilmi Sozer
A triangulation with consequences.

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