Thursday, May 14, 2009

German Love Triangle: Jerichow

Jerichow is not exactly Paris. Hardly a romantic locale, the East German city and surrounding region remains about as depressed as it was during the Communist regime. It might be a drab place for a love triangle, but that is where the three central characters find themselves in Christian Petzold’s Jerichow (trailer here), opening tomorrow in New York.

As a dishonorably discharged veteran on the dole, Thomas might not sound like much of a temptation to a married woman. However, Ali the abusive Turkish immigrant is not much of a husband to Laura. Ali also has trouble holding his booze, which finally costs him his license. This presents a serious problem since Ali must constantly visit the dozens of snack stands he owns and operates, so he hires Thomas as his driver.

Uncharacteristically, the mercurial Ali takes an immediate liking to the taciturn Thomas, but Laura treats him with apparent contempt. Of course, as soon as they are finally alone, their secret mutual attraction overwhelms them. From there, complications arise, inexorably leading to an illicit lovers’ conspiracy. Yet, despite their considerable differences, both men have similar goals, literally trying to build homes for themselves in this rather unpromising region of Germany—with the same woman.

Definitely the strong silent type, Benno Fürmann’s Thomas radiates a dangerous physicality. As we watch him make the rounds with Ali, he is clearly not without compassion. Yet he carries some unspeakable history with him, which is mysteriously kept off-camera and undisclosed. As Laura, Nina Hoss’s frozen reserve seems appropriately Germanic, if not particularly seductive. The film’s real spark though comes from Hilmi Sözer as the mass of contradictions known as Ali. He is cruel, jealous, and unpredictable, but also disconcertingly human.

Jerichow bears a strong stylistic resemblance to Götz Spielmann’s Revanche, following the film noir template, but de-emphasizing the thriller aspects. Realistically grungy, Jerichow is also an ironic commentary on the new Europe, where ambitious immigrants prosper, supporting and thereby dominating the less entrepreneurial native Europeans. Like the city they live in, the three sides of Petzold’s love triangle are not particularly glamorous, but they have a raw earthiness that makes their dramatic conflicts quite absorbing. It opens tomorrow in New York at the Film Forum.