One of the founding members of the new German cinema's "Berlin School", director Christian Petzold has explored the many paths that lead from the old divided Germany into the modern, uneasily reunited one, looking for traces of the past in the present. Set in the former East German area of Jerichow, this 2008 film deploys Mr. Petzold's usual observational detachment - proceeding through rigid, economical, boxed-in setups that always explore the characters' awkward relationship with space and society - in the service of a tense love triangle freely inspired by James M. Cain's celebrated novel The Postman Always Rings Twice.

     Dishonorably discharged ex-soldier Thomas (Benno Fürmann), looking for work, crosses the paths of Ali (Hilmi Sözer), the Turkish owner of a kebab shop chain, and his sullen trophy wife Laura (Nina Hoss); Ali, in need of a driver and helper, hires Thomas, who finds himself in a mutual attraction to Laura. The trio is brought closer together by the unspoken secrets each of them carries and hides from the others (some of which will never be revealed in the course of this tightly wound little film), but also by the presence of the money that seems to dictate their every action: Thomas needs it to survive and refit his family house, while Ali is working for his struggling brother and to eventually retire back to Turkey, and Laura, the most vulnerable and dependent, is attached to Ali for the financial power he holds over her, realising she can't live, or love, without the money to back up her choices.

     As resolutely chilly and matter-of-fact as Mr. Petzold's other works, Jerichow is however a more involving one, thanks to the intensity of the exquisitely nuanced performances from the cast, expertly exploring through the director's steady hand the tensions that propel the plot's methodically dispassionate drama. Ultimately, what Mr. Petzold is aiming at by setting this tale of love and loss in the former East Germany remains merely suggested by its struggling, downbeat mood where happiness is always another hillside away.

Cast: Benno Fürmann, Nina Hoss, Hilmi Sözer

Director and writer: Christian Petzold
Cinematography: Hans Fromm (colour)
Music: Stefan Will
Designer: Kade Gruber
Costumes: Anette Guther
Editor: Bettina Böhler
Producers: Florian Koerner von Gustorf, Michael Weber (Schramm Film Koerner & Weber in co-production with Bayerischen Rundfunk and ARTE)
Germany, 2008, 90 minutes

Screened: DVD, Lisbon, September 10th 2012


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