Tag Archives: Christian Petzold

Gold: Interview with Nina Hoss

Gold_ copyright Emily Meyer_

Format: Cinema

Release date: 9 February 2013 (Berlin International Film Festival)

Director: Thomas Arslan

Writer: Thomas Arslan (screenplay)

Cast: Nina Hoss, Marko Mandi&#263, Lars Rudolph, Uwe Bohm, Peter Kurth, Rosa Enskat, Wolfgang Packhä;user

Germany 2013

113 mins

In the summer of 1898, a small group of German immigrants set out on a journey to Dawson City to find their fortune in the Klondike Gold Rush. The mostly inept travellers include a snobbish, mercenary news reporter, Gustav Müller (Uwe Bohm), who intends to report on the trip for a New York-based German paper, an older couple who take care of the catering, and a poor carpenter (Lars Rudolph) looking to make a better life for the large family he left behind in the city. Joining them at the last minute is Emily Meyer (Nina Hoss), a stern, self-reliant and hands-on divorcée, who soon turns out to be the most driven member of the group, willing to push ahead at all costs as they trudge deeper and deeper into a menacing wilderness, forging through dense woods and across raging rivers. Though determined and sensible, Emily’s focus seems to shift slightly as she starts talking to Carl Boehmer (Marko Mandi&#263), the charismatic (and only competent male) packer and horse guard, who eventually confesses to her that he is on the run after killing someone.

The man who claims to be able to lead them along the rough and steep way is shady businessman Wilhelm Laser (Peter Kurth), who holds their money as well as their hope in the form of some gold nuggets he insists were found at their aimed-for destination. But not only is the group badly equipped to handle the gruelling terrain, the tension between them soon gets the upper hand, and the accidents, injuries and mental exertions of their dangerous adventure gradually minimise their number as they move on.

Carefully constructed, weirdly chaste and slow in pace, Thomas Arslan’s Gold is essentially a German-language Western with a fierce sense of authenticity at the expense of action and drama. It’s beautifully shot and benefits in no small part from Arslan’s meticulous eye for characters continuously in motion, here carried by yet another remarkably restrained performance from Nina Hoss in the lead role. As precarious as their trip across uncharted territory may be, Emily’s certain of one thing – there is no going back to her old life, no matter where their journey comes to an end.

Pamela Jahn talked to Nina Hoss at this year’s 63rd edition of the Berlin International Film Festival in February, where Gold premiered in competition.

Pamela Jahn: Although the film is labelled a Western, it feels more like an adventurous road-movie at times. Did you approach it that way?

Nina Hoss: Yes, I think so. It’s much more about the path, the journey, than big shoot-outs, or whatever else you consider to be in a classic Western. Of course revenge is a motive, and there are other elements in the film that you find in a typical Western, but the plot is more like an adventure, or a road-movie with horses, maybe.

Have you ever shot a rifle before? What was it like to brandish one?

I learned how to shoot recently for a vampire movie I did, so it wasn’t all new to me. But it was exciting, because you don’t really get to shoot much in German movies unless you’re playing a detective or a cop. And what helped me with my role here is that Emily comes from the city, and she is going on this trip and experiences something she’s never done before – like she doesn’t know how to handle a gun, she doesn’t even know how to ride a horse. So she is learning all this throughout their journey, and I could learn with her, which took some pressure off me and made me feel more comfortable with the situation.

The film also tells a part of German history that probably no one really knew much about…

That’s right. I think this was actually part of Thomas’s personal approach for telling the story. I mean, we all knew that, at that time, there were lots of Germans emigrating to the United States and Canada, as they did from many other countries. But it’s interesting to see this group of Germans trying to make a new life for themselves, whereas now Germany is considered a place where people go to in the hope of making a better living.

But looking at it from today’s perspective, we all have to go on that path again in a way, because no one knows really how this financial crisis is going to end. So it was interesting for me to tell a story that shows that there is always hope. Even if you forget about why you’re on this path, and you don’t know whether you’ll ever see real gold in your life, the only thing that counts is that you keep on going. And maybe throughout that journey you change, which is what happens to Emily. She becomes more and more free and confident and self-fulfilled, and that is already a success.

What was the most challenging part for you during that journey?

It was a tough project, because it was a low budget movie, so as actors, we really had to deal with the horses all day long in between shooting. We did have two wranglers, but they couldn’t look after ten horses all at the same time. So whenever we took a break from shooting, we had to stand around with the horses. I wasn’t used to taking care of them at all. Horses get very tired after ten hours, just like us, and then it becomes dangerous because they do things you can’t predict – we had several dangerous moments. So for me, working with the wranglers was like a therapy of some sort, because I learned how to always stay calm for the horse. As soon as I got somehow excited or angry or tired, the horse would react immediately. So you always had to be in this ‘om’ zone, which was an amazing experience for me. I never thought I’d say this, but what impressed me most was the work with the animals. I really had to work hard to make it through the shoot. At the end of the day, we weren’t professional riders. I learned to ride a horse especially for this film, I had never done it before. But I wasn’t afraid… just very respectful.

There comes a moment in the film when Emily has to make a decision whether she wants to go on or not. Was there ever a moment in the process of the production where you, or Thomas Arslan, thought, ‘Stop. That’s it. I am not going any further.’

There was one moment when we were really worried that we had to stop. We were shooting in the Fraser River Valley, and there was only one gravel road out of the valley. Otherwise, you had to use a ferry to get on the other side of the river, but this was also miles away from where we were. One day we heard helicopters flying around and we couldn’t shoot because of the noise they made. And then suddenly we heard our producer through the walkie-talkie saying, ‘You have to stop immediately and leave…now!’ And if a producer says that, you know that something really bad is going to happen, because it costs them a fortune to break a shoot. So we tried to stay calm and started packing, and all that with these horses. So we had to guide them up this tortuous road to where the trucks were parked. And as soon as we got to top of the hill we realised what was happening, because we saw smoke, and then the fire. So we had to rush out of this valley through the fire, literally. Like there were trees falling down around us and what not. So we thought: ‘Oh god, will we ever make it out of here!’ But also, the question was really whether we would ever be able to go back to the set. We lost a couple of days because of this fire, but luckily we were able to return and finish the shooting.

Do you actually have a favourite Western movie?

I love the John Ford movies, which I first saw when I was still a kid. But I watched one recently that I hadn’t seen before, which is Monte Hellman’s The Shooting, which is really an incredible Western because it’s so simple in terms of the story and even the way it is shot, but extremely effective – I loved it!

Was it difficult for you to swap directors and work with Thomas Arslan instead of Christian Petzold? Is there an open conversation between those directors, who constitute this particular ‘Berlin School’ of filmmaking?

It was an exciting project for me, but not because I ‘left’ Christian Petzold for this film, as I have worked with other directors before. But what was interesting, first of all, was the fact that Thomas Arslan, as a German filmmaker, takes on Canada to make a Western. As a German actress, I never dreamed that I could ever be part of a Western. So this was very tempting. And of course it was also interesting for me to experience a different kind of working relationship with someone who comes from the same background as Christian. Christian knew before I did that Thomas was going to cast me for this role, because they are friends, so Thomas wanted to make sure that wasn’t a problem – which I think is a bit odd, because of course we can all work together. Christian thought it was great, because he had this idea very early on that there would be a big ensemble around these Berlin School directors, like a pool of people who work and develop things together. But he’d realised that wouldn’t quite work out because all of these directors have big egos. So I was quite excited that it was sort of happening, but I am also already working on my next film with Christian again, which I am looking forward to.

How do you and Christian Petzold work together as a team? What is your working relationship like?

I am always as prepared for my next role as one can possibly be. I already know all about it because I am part of the process, not necessarily of the writing, but of constructing the story. So I get the first 20 pages of the script and then the next 20 pages… I am very much involved and so I can go on that path with him. I can do my research and read the books related to the subject, which means I don’t have to hurry up to prepare right before we start shooting. So I am really in an ideal position with him.

Interview by Pamela Jahn

Watch a clip from Gold:

Barbara: Interview with Christian Petzold


Format: Cinema

Dates: 28 September 2012

Venues: Key cities

Distributor: Soda Pictures

Director: Christian Petzold

Writers: Christian Petzold, Harun Farocki

Cast: Nina Hoss, Ronald Zehrfeld, Rainer Bock

Germany 2012

105 mins

Best known internationally for his chilly, haunting melodramas Yella (2007) and Jerichow (2008), Christian Petzold has yet again teamed up with actress Nina Hoss for his latest film Barbara. Hoss gives a mesmerising performance as Barbara Wolff, a doctor who has applied for an exit visa from the GDR only to find herself transferred from Berlin to a provincial hospital in the countryside, spied upon by the Stasi while her lover in the West is secretly preparing to help her escape via the Baltic Sea. Like all Petzold’s films, Barbara is informed by the director’s background in literature and cinema history, and yet it stands in its own right as a subtly balanced, emotionally restrained and elegantly shot drama crafted by a real auteur, with a style, vision and worldview entirely his own.

Pamela Jahn talked to Christian Petzold at this year’s 62nd edition of the Berlin International Film Festival in February where Barbara premiered in Competition and earned him the Silver Bear for Best Director.

Pamela Jahn: Your films are often inspired by literature. In Yella, for example, you are borrowing your genre conventions from James M. Cain’s cult pulp novel The Postman Always Rings Twice. Your new film Barbara, however, feels more like a classic novella.

Christian Petzold: There are two books that served as an inspiration for me this time: Hermann Broch’s novella Barbara, which is set in 1928 and tells the story of a female doctor who takes a job in a rural hospital in order to hide her communist activities from the police, and Werner Bräunig’s novel Rummerplatz. In Bräunig’s book a doctor’s son is consumed by physical work for the first time in a uranium mine. He defines himself through this work, which is interesting because work as a theme had almost completely disappeared from the literature and cinema in the West. Another aspect that appealed to me was that the book tells how women replaced the workers who had been wooed by the West, which somewhat gave those women a new purpose and self-understanding, and I wanted to tell a story about this.

Barbara marks your fifth collaboration with actress Nina Hoss. How would you describe your work relationship?

Part of the reason why we work together so well is because we help each other develop and, at the same time, with each film our work relationship grows stronger. For example, when we were shooting Jerichow I felt that I had to do something different in my next film, especially with the ending, because I realised that I kept pushing Nina into tragedy every single time; like a writer, who keeps killing his heroine at some point so he can finish this book and get on to a new story. I got really annoyed with myself for always working within that same pattern. When Nina and I talked about the final scene, I told her that, next time, I would like to make a film with an open ending and we ended up having a very long conversation about what this means for my work, for our work, and for what we’re trying to achieve, which helped me a lot. And that’s the great thing about our collaboration: that we can have those conversations and support and inspire each other. That’s what makes it so exciting for me.

Aside from working with Nina Hoss, you have developed a very special way of casting people.

Yes, when I start casting for a new film, I first listen to the voices of actors. If you ask me, all these talent agencies should send out CDs instead of DVDs; there is much more to get from listening to voices. But if you find an actress like Nina Hoss and you work together for so many years, your attitude towards the character changes in a way. I don’t really describe her anymore in the script, which means she somewhat appears out of a situation; I don’t need to support her literarily because she already exists. But at the same time, I also need to keep a sort of respectful distance from that particular character.

Barbara is set in former communist East Germany in 1980. What fascinated you about this particular era and how did you approach it, since you grew up in West Germany?

My parents fled the GDR when I was still very young, so I grew up in the Western part of Germany. But my parents kept travelling back to the East part quite regularly and they took my brothers and me with them, so East Germany was not so unfamiliar to me. The problem is the kind of stuffiness that exists in Germany, that narrow thinking that only someone who has lived through a story has the right to tell it. But if you look at the great works of world literature, many of these stories are actually told from the perspective of an outsider. Like in The Great Gatsby, for example, the narrator is the only character who is dead. With Barbara, it was very important to me that the actors understand my particular perspective. Before I start shooting, I always watch selected films with my team in order to get everyone in the mood and, this time, one of the films we watched during the rehearsals was The French Connection. There is a scene in the film in which Gene Hackman’s character, [Jimmy] Doyle, wanders back to his apartment after a long shift and suddenly gets attacked by a sniper. What makes this sequence so fascinating and one of the most frenetic moments in the film is the perspective. Normally, any director would cut from Gene Hackman walking down the street to the sniper and then follow him through the reticle just before the gunshot to build up tension and suspense. But the film doesn’t do that: instead the camera keeps at eye level with Hackman during the entire chase. Only after 15 minutes of chasing the sniper through the jammed streets of New York, only in the very moment when Doyle seems to have caught himself in a dead end, when he struggles to stay in control, that’s when the camera changes its perspective and points at him. What I was trying to explain with this sequence was the importance of my viewpoint in Barbara, which is similar in terms of the camera position. I wanted everyone to understand why the camera has to be in a certain spot, why can’t it be anywhere else because that would change my perspective on the story.

It is your first historical film. How difficult was it for you to reconstruct the setting of the GDR in the early 1980s?

What I wanted to achieve with Barbara was to make a historical film but without evoking history merely through the setting where you have the hammer and sickle symbol in every frame. Instead, I tried to create an open space. There is a nice anecdote about François Truffaut and Jean Renoir having a conversation about Renoir’s The Golden Coach [1952]. Truffaut was of the opinion that you could only do history in the studio, you couldn’t show any sky, because the sky is always the sky of today. Renoir disagreed. In his view, you had to use both the studio and the sky, as in the historical and the present. If you pretend that the film was only about the past with no relation to our present time, then the film itself would be a lie. And I thought I actually agree with Renoir, which is why in Barbara, you see lots of sky, lots of wind, and lots of colour. But there was another aspect that was important to me in that regard: I watched Chinatown [1974] again because it’s a historical film and I kept wondering why the Los Angeles of the 1930s that is recreated in the film never feels like a German historical film, for example. I realised that it is because of the different aggregate states at play such as heat, drought, and male and female sweat, and I think all this is linked together. Or, take Fassbinder’s The Merchant of Four Seasons [1971], he also managed to create a sense of the historical atmosphere with very little means, but still to great effect. It’s almost like a childhood memory, like with Proust, you smell something and history begins to unfold. The only other option would have been to go with Bresson, cool and distanced. Those were the two options I considered and, ultimately, I decided to go with The Merchant of Four Seasons.

Looking at your previous films, they seem to be strongly informed by the fundamental cracks in German society.

I find it very difficult to think about why this is, but it seems obvious that I am interested in people who don’t feel comfortable in their skin. I believe a lot of it has to do with the fact that my parents fled the GDR and when we first got to West Germany I spent quite some time in transitional housing and never got the feeling that I arrived anywhere properly. I always felt more like an outsider myself, whereas my parents desperately tried to adapt to their new surroundings but, at the same time, it made them become even more estranged. All these are themes that worry me in a way but I think that, one day, I’ll just pay for a psychoanalyst to get to the bottom of it all (laughs). That said, my next film also follows a similar line – I just can’t help it.

Can you tell us a little bit more about your new film?

It’s set in Berlin in 1945, so it’s a historical film again. In short, it’s about a woman who survived Auschwitz and she now wants her life back.

Do you feel you had to go through different steps in your career before you could approach that part of German history?

No, it was not quite like that. The story almost fell in my hands in a way. My long-term co-author Harun Farocki and I read a crime novel from 1946 which had a similar plot line. That was about two or three years ago and for some reason it stuck with me. But it’s true that, back then, it didn’t feel like the right thing to do. A Jewish woman, Berlin, the Holocaust, it felt too charged, too close to me then.

How do you explain your particular interest in female characters?

Good question. To answer that, I probably have to go through at least 10 years of psychotherapy (laughs). No, honestly, I think some filmmakers have a preference for male characters and then there are others, who are more interested in female characters. David Lynch, for example, is a ‘women director’ in that way, and John Ford is a ‘male director’. That doesn’t mean that one is better than the other, it’s just how you project yourself into the world. And the way I look at women in my films is not like a pure Hitchcockian look, where the woman functions as an erotic object for the desiring look of the male. I am not fetishising anything. Especially with Nina, it’s more like there is someone whom I don’t know and who I can’t be, who is something completely strange to me. It’s like these female characters are somehow caught in a different world, like in exile, and they’re trying to get back in touch with the world I live in, the world we all live in. On the other hand, with my camera I am somewhat in exile too, and from there I keep trying to get to the core of the story. This is how it all correlates.

Nina Hoss has said elsewhere that she would love to make a comedy with you one day. Can you imagine yourself doing that too?

Of course Nina said that, because she is great in comedies (laughs). And I would love to make a comedy too. But it’s incredibly difficult to make a really good comedy and so I keep putting it off just as I keep putting off to quit smoking. I guess I am just not ready for it yet.

Interview by Pamela Jahn

Berlinale 2012


The 62nd edition of the Berlinale was marked by a feeling of relief. Not only did the line-up for this year’s film festival look more promising than in previous years, the programme ultimately featured fewer bad surprises as well as some truly excellent films.

Two of the three German titles in the competition stood out for their defiant narrative structure, both in their own way offering an exquisite blend of intensity and emotional restraint. Following up Jerichow with his fifth collaboration with actress Nina Hoss, Christian Petzold probably enjoyed the festival’s greatest triumph with Barbara even if the prize for best film went to the Italian prison drama Caesar Must Die (Cesare deve morire) by directorial duo Vittorio and Paolo Taviani, awarded by a jury headed by Mike Leigh (need I say more!). Set in 1980 in a small East German town, Barbara (Nina Hoss) is a doctor who was denied an exit permit by the country’s authorities and, for disciplinary reasons, was transferred from her prestigious post in Berlin to a hospital in the country. Secretly planning her escape via the Baltic Sea with Jörg, her lover in the West, Barbara has no intention to connect with her new colleagues or local residents, who in return counter her coolness with suspicion and defiance – except for Andre (Ronald Zehrfeld), Barbara’s new boss, who seems to have a crush on her. Barbara knows not to trust anyone around her and has no illusions about Andre’s role as observer reporting to the Stasi, who regularly search both the shoddy apartment she has been allocated and her own body, forcibly entering the most private parts of her existence. However, as Barbara realises that she and Andre share the same approach and dedication to work, her defensive wall slowly starts to crumble, which eventually forces her to make a decision about her future. In contrast to most of his previous work, Petzold gives the story a profound warmth and emotional charge, subtly balancing his usual laconic style and distinctive narrative approach, while Nina Hoss unfolds her character stunningly in yet another razor-sharp, painfully acute performance that justly won her the Best Actress prize for the second time, surpassing her breath-taking appearance in Petzold’s Yella in 2007.

The other remarkable German competition entry was Matthias Glasner’s Mercy. Glasner, who some years ago impressed us with The Free Will, about a rapist trying to readjust to society after years in a clinic, has crafted his most accomplished film to date with this strangely intimate moral melodrama. An inadvertent car accident shakes up the troubled marriage between engineer Niels (Jürgen Vogel) and his nurse wife Maria (Birgit Minichmayr), not long after their relocation to a small town on the very edge of the Arctic Ocean, where the couple and their tight-lipped pre-teen son where hoping to make a new start between black night and permanent twilight. One day on her way home from work, Maria appears to run over someone or something. Unable to face up to the situation, she panics and rushes back home. Niels checks the road, but although he can’t find anything, both realise well before the truth comes to light that the accident has forced them into a cruel dilemma – a dilemma that seems to revolve less around mercy than guilt, and ultimately reactivates their relationship. Glasner’s charting of their dark journey is acutely alert to the moral complexity of the situation and chillingly tender while free of sentimentality.

Anything but mercy could be found in Timo Vuorensola’s eagerly awaited Iron Sky, which immensely boosted the fun factor in this year’s Panorama section. Partly financed through fan crowd-funding, which offered supporters a chance to help not only producing the film but developing the plot, Iron Sky is an overwrought and unashamedly daft symbiosis of tongue-in-cheek sci-fi lunacy and old-school guerrilla filmmaking. It’s a film about a bunch of Nazi punks in outer space who, just before the end of the Second World War, managed to build a space station on the dark side of the moon. The action starts in 2018 when an African-American astronaut discovers the swastika bastion led by a Führer called Kortzfleisch (Udo Kier – who else?). Kortzfleisch leads an attack on Earth with an army of steel-armoured zeppelins, which ultimately causes a new war between world leaders. The film requires a reasonable amount of good will to get past the daft jokes, but the few sparks of true brilliance make Iron Sky a joyful B-movie space odyssey.

Far more serious illusions and delusions were at the core of two other Panorama entries: Sally El Hosaini’s My Brother the Devil and Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s Headshot (Fon tok kuen fah), two thrilling, dark tales from a transnational, political present in which everybody is an alien one way or another. My Brother the Devil follows 19-year-old Rashid and his teenage brother Mo through the streets of Hackney, where Rashid has learned to make a living as a shrewd drug-dealing gang member. Being too good at heart, he takes the chance to enter a completely new world as it opens up to him, while Mo soon has to face his own prejudices if he wants to save his brother’s life. A moving, well-acted coming-of-age melodrama about repressed feelings and damaged community spirit, the film is told with care and sensitivity and is a welcome departure from the usual grim British social realism.

Aesthetically distinctive in its modern film noir-ish look and feel, Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s follow-up to his inaccessibly cryptic Nymph is a remarkably accomplished portrait of an altruistic cop turned assassin whose vision is inverted when a bullet hits his brain. Despite the brutal action that increases as Tul gets fatally caught up in the slippery concept of justice, Headshot is a marvel of fierce visual beauty, slow, yet effective storytelling and stylish precision: every frame and movement, every colour and texture seems completely controlled. While the story is by no means original, Ratanaruang knows what he is doing and safely steers his badass neo-noir thriller to a devastating finale in which Tul finds a new place for himself in the world of the lost.

A final word about a small, brooding masterpiece. Screened out of competition, Keyhole is Guy Maddin’s latest and by far most ambitious film to date. Trying, as usual, to make sense of the memories and feelings from the past that haunt him day and night, Maddin this time has crafted a heady amalgam of sinister black and white 40s noir-gangster flick, Homer’s Odyssey (loosely adapted), Sirk-like melodrama and haunted ghost story. Like all of Maddin’s work, it’s a perfectly twisted, dark, dreamlike cinematic encounter that stays in the back of your mind long after you have re-entered reality. It won’t convince everybody, but it put a spell on me.

Pamela Jahn

Dreileben: A crime trilogy from New German Cinema

One Minute of Darkness

It’s been two years since Channel 4 unveiled its ambitious yet patchy Red Riding Trilogy, which was adapted from David Peace’s crime novels, with each of the three episodes made by a different home-grown director. Following a similar principle, the three-part German TV project Dreileben, which screened in the Cinema Europa section at this year’s London Film Festival, was directed by three of the country’s leading filmmakers, Christian Petzold (Yella, Jerichow), Dominik Graf (Germany 09) and Christoph Hochhä;usler (The City Below, Germany 09). This screening may not have been met with the same level of enthusiasm by UK audiences as back in Germany, when the films premiered at the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year, yet Dreileben is a bold, innovative and largely compelling experiment in cinematic storytelling that deserves more attention than it has received during its limited festival run.

Almost more fascinating than the outcome is the initial extensive email conversation between the three filmmakers about film aesthetics, which ultimately led them to continue their heated exchange on screen. ‘The three of us had a long and extremely intensive correspondence on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the DFFB, the German Film and Television Academy Berlin,’ says Petzold. ‘It started off with a discussion about the so-called “Berlin School”, which Dominik criticised. According to him we were in danger of compromising our view, our deep and passionate criticism, in favour of a common style, which would ultimately lead to a feeling of artificiality, constraint, and a distrust in communication, in language. We wrote to each other on a daily basis for about six weeks. Suddenly, the DFFB anniversary had passed, but we missed having these conversations, so we continued to meet and to talk, without any recording devices or designated use, until we decided to start this film project together.’

Defined by Hochhä;usler as ‘sibling films rather than a trilogy’, each of the resulting films feels very much like a separate piece of work, although there are more or less obvious plot links and reoccurring characters, similarly to the format of the Red Riding Trilogy. Most importantly, the filmmakers agreed upon a criminal case as the golden thread that binds their individual narratives: the escape of a convict from police custody into a small town called Dreileben. Located in the beautiful yet chilling Thuringia Forest, in the former East Germany, it seemed to be the ideal place for what the directors where trying to achieve. ‘I knew Thuringia from my childhood,’ says Petzold. ‘My mother grew up there, and I made Christoph and Dominik go and visit the area. Despite its proximity to Weimar, the home of Goethe and Schiller, it has always been a very poor area. People didn’t want to live there, they left if they could, and those who stayed told dark stories to each other. We liked that.’ As a consequence, Dreileben draws heavily on the German romantic tradition in terms of its approach to nature – seeing it both as a place of danger and a place of inspiration.

This becomes most evident in the third part, One Minute of Darkness, directed by Christoph Hochhä;usler, which also proves to be the most compelling episode. The film focuses on the investigations by the local detective in charge of the case of Frank Molesch, the escaped murderer, who – if only in the eyes of the detective – may actually be innocent. ‘What I find very intriguing is that we can never be sure about anything,’ says Hochhä;usler. ‘Instead we have to construct reality time and again. And what interested me most about Molesch’s character was the question: to what extent are we the authors of our own destiny, and to what extent do other people have an influence on that? Molesch is an extremely malleable, extremely soft persona, whose entire life has been dictated by his foster mother and external authorities, and I thought it would be interesting to explore what happens if such a diktat no longer exists. Can he actually make use of this moment of freedom? Where does it lead to?’

Hence Hochhä;usler’s episode is told mainly from Molesch’s viewpoint. In one of the film’s most gripping scenes, Molesch, despite his almost brutish actions, enters into a wonderfully tender bond with a young runaway, who also happens to be hiding in the woods. Meanwhile, the police inspector tries to get inside the head of Molesch, in order both to find him and prove his innocence. Shot in the cool and sparse New German Cinema manner, One Minute of Darkness may bring nothing terribly new to the genre, but it still makes for an effective and solid thriller in its own right.

In contrast, Petzold’s Beats Being Dead (the first episode in the trilogy) dazzles on the aesthetic level, but fails to keep up the tension and intensity from start to finish. Petzold reveals very little about the murder; instead, we meet Johannes, a young male nurse, who begins an affair with an immigrant girl from Eastern Europe who works in a nearby hotel. While the hunt for Molesch always remains in the shadow of the film’s main narrative, Petzold decides to concentrate on the mismatched couple as they struggle with life as much as with their young, and doomed, relationship.

Sitting in between the two episodes is Dominik Graf’s Don’t Follow Me Around, in which a police psychologist has been ordered to Dreileben to help the local police in their investigation. Adopting a style that is less cool and detached than Petzold and Hochhäusler’s approach, Graf manages to deftly weave a compelling personal story about two women, who fell for the same lover in the past, into the crime scenario. However, he gets slightly too carried away by his own ambitions for the project, rather than simply sticking with its initial premise.

Taken as a whole, Dreileben might have benefited if Petzold, Graf and Hochhä;usler were slightly less hard-headed filmmakers. There seems to be a potential in their work that is not quite realised, a kind of brilliance that keeps bumping against the same creative blockages. Still, aesthetically and conceptually, Dreileben is an innovative and engrossing, if slow-burning, TV-style crime-drama experiment that often hits a note of genuine mystery and discomfort in its attempts to break away from the narrow scope that has characterised much of recent German filmmaking. It’s certainly worth four and a half hours of your time, even if it’s not quite the triumph that might be expected from each of these three directors.

Pamela Jahn