Thursday, January 07, 2010


2007, Germany, directed by Christian Petzold

To an even greater degree than Wolfsburg, Christian Petzold's previous film, Yella plunges into the world of modern German business - sleek offices, constant phone conversations, hours spent on the move in cars (vehicles give both films a narrative jump-start) - although where Wolfsburg featured characters from outside the world of commerce, here no other life seems possible. Despite the characters' own references to the thrill of victory at the negotiating table, the film portrays those victories in entirely hollow terms - the excitement evaporates almost instantly, or comes with terrible consequences.

The film plays out in the most sterile of business spaces: anonymous office buildings such as those erected when Hanover's world fair closed its doors, as if to emphasize that the fair itself was all an illusion, or hotels with no personality. Petzold focuses constantly on straight lines, as if nothing can escape the geometric precision of the modern environment: his characters always seem to be trapped in boxes or between lines (during one brief scene, he suggests an alternative set of possibilities, and he uses warmer tones and out of focus images in contrast to the crisp lines of the rest of the film).

There's a very deliberate ambiguity to the film, which seems to hover in a kind of dream world: Yella (Nina Hoss, who's excellent) is shown waking from sleep on several occasions, while doors in the hotel almost never seem to be closed, as if the usual concerns for security are unnecessary. Several shots refer back, either explicitly or implicitly, to a key scene of trauma early on, in which a car goes off a bridge: the reflected lines of the bridge are mirrored almost perfectly in another series of reflections in a pool outside Yella's hotel, a parallel that acquires more significance as the film comes full circle.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States