CAPSULE: German film director/writer Christian Petzold's YELLA is a suspenseful film carried off without the viewer knowing what the suspense is all about. It is a film about a capable but very material woman making her way in a new town. She turns her back on her unlucky former husband and goes to western Germany where the financial prospects are better. This is a film where what is happening in the margins becomes increasingly more interesting than the main story. During the course of this film something strange is happening in conjunction with the main story, but the viewer is never sure what. The mystery happening in the margins of this story is more interesting than the mainline plot. Nina Hoss won a Silver Bear prize for Best Actress for her role in YELLA, and the film won Best Picture by the German Film Critics Association. It also won Best Picture, Director, Actress and Cinematography Lola awards (the German equivalent of the Oscar). Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
Yella (played by Nina Hoss) is leaving her home town of Wittenberge, leaving her husband, and leaving her old life. Her husband Ben (Hinnerk Sch¨o;nemann) at one time looked like a man of great prospects, but his business plans failed and at the same time so did their relationship. Yella is a smart woman with a good knowledge of accounting, but she is also a very material person. Ben can no longer support her in the style to which she wants to remain accustomed. On top of which Ben is tightening his grip on her and she knows she must leave him. Ben tries to one last futile stunt to hold onto her and nearly kills both of them.
Yella now knows she made the right decision to leave. She is going to escape from her town in the eastern part of Germany and go to the richer prospects to Hanover in the western part. Still shaken by her brush with death, Yella goes to a new town where she has been offered a high-paying accounting job. Now it is her luck that is going sour. The job turns out to be a fraud and she is just being used. Just when things look bleak she runs into Philipp (Devid Striesow). Philipp is himself a sort of financial wheeler-dealer who treads a narrow line between honesty and dishonesty. Expecting to just to use Yella as a distraction for the other side in negotiations he discovers that Yella can be more valuable for her mind than for her body. But Yella herself can be a dangerous ally. Does she want Philipp or does she want what she can take him for? And what will she do about Ben, who has followed her to her new town?
The characters in YELLA are a little cold to American tastes. There are a number of reasons why this may be true. Part of it may be a cultural difference between how Germans portray Germans on the screen and how Americans portray Americans. Part may be because of the specific situation in the film. In addition, much of the plot is about financial dealings. While everybody is fascinated with money, somehow it is a subject that does not do well on the screen. Alan J. Pakula's 1981 film ROLLOVER comes really close to being financial science fiction and a stock-market-based thriller and it is about as thrilling as anyone could make incidents whose impact is shown by numbers on the screen. It is as hard to make finance exciting in a movie as it is to make Pilgrims erotic. It just does not work. But if the finance is not interesting, the metaphysical and fantasy-tinged margins of this story compensate. Petzold creates prominent contrasts in the film. The film contrasts what has become of the old East Germany with the west of Germany. It bounces back and forth from stifling business offices to frequent interludes with nature with birds, trees, and especially water. There are recurrent images of water as a symbol of death and of rebirth.
The press materials that came with the film mentioned that the film was inspired by a certain semi-well-known American film and one that I happen to like a great deal. Unfortunately, knowing the connection with the American film is a massive spoiler. It tells much too much about where the story is really going. The original, however, did more on what I can only assume is a small fraction of the budget of YELLA. For those who have already seen YELLA, I will leave a link at the bottom of this review for the American film that inspired YELLA.
Christian Petzold's story-telling is slow but intriguing. He builds suspense without defining letting the viewer know what to be uneasy about. That is not easy to do. I rate YELLA a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0806686/
SPOILER: This film is strongly inspired by http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0055830/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2008 Mark R. Leeper