After the globetrotting, star-studded big budgets of Perfume and The International, German director Tom Tykwer uses 3 as a return to the more modest, fluidly modern, insouciant moviemaking of his breakthrough feature Lola Rennt. But, instead of relaunching the director's career, 3 is more akin to a holding pattern that reveals his cinematic nous as a triumph of style and packaging over substance. First unveiled to mild disinterest in the 2010 Venice Film Festival, Mr. Tykwer's take on the time-honoured romantic threesome mixes it up by having both cultural scientist Hanna (Sophie Rois) and art engineer Simon (Sebastian Schipper), a childless, unmarried couple of 20 years, fall separately for genetic scientist Adam (Devid Striesow), who feels equally attracted to both.
For Mr. Tykwer, the presence of the not casually named Adam becomes the "genetic cure" that will rekindle Hanna and Simon's lethargic relationship and push it towards new paths, while seriously risking breaking it apart. This coldly deterministic view is echoed by the film's gliding, smooth rhythm, shiny modern Berlin surfaces and visual tricks (split screens, ethereal animations, floating frames), suggesting not so much an organic film as a sort of chimerical lab experiment, a sophisticatedly futuristic take on classic romantic comedy.
But, while the presentation is flawless and Ms. Rois and Mr. Schipper really dig into their characters, 3 never really takes off beyond the mere thought experiment. It's a construct whose ambition collides full on with Mr. Tykwer's total absence of a thrusting narrative thread, making 3 a sleek but disposable ride, instantly forgettable, whose pulsing, intriguing introduction suggests a braver, smarter film that never materialises.
Sophie Rois, Sebastian Schipper, Devid Striesow; Angela Winkler.
Director/writer, Tom Tykwer; cinematography, Frank Griebe (colour, widescreen); music, Mr. Tykwer, Johnny Klimek, Reinhold Heil, Gabriel Mounsey; designer, Uli Hanisch; costumes, Polly Matthies; editor, Mathilde Bonnefoy; producer, Stefan Arndt (X-Filme Creative Pool in co-production with WDR, ARD-Degeto, ARTE), Germany, 2010, 119 minutes.
Screened: Venice Film Festival 2010 - official competition press screening, Casino - Sala Perla (Venice), September 9th 2010.