Dreileben (dirs. Christian Petzold, Dominik Graf, Christoph Hochhäusler)
A prime contender for film(s) of the year, this German trilogy consists of three self-contained films each with a different director, interconnected by the threat of a criminal on the loose in the forest town of Dreileben. Taken all together, it amounts to a new, exciting take on the omnibus concept: the three pieces are perfectly self-sufficient, but their interplay of perspectives, both contradicting and complementary, yields an expanding universe of dramatic effects and interpretations. Much has been written about these films as an organic, shifting whole like few of its kind have ever achieved, but I’d like to discuss them more in individual terms, as well as in reverse order of their sequence in the trilogy:
One Minute of Darkness (dir. Christoph Hochhäusler) An escaped, mentally disturbed convict roams the woods; when a retired cop joins the manhunt, he unspools disrupting discoveries about the original case. So far general sentiment has identified this as the weakest of the three (with Petzold’s film deemed the strongest), but I wonder if this judgment has something to do with its placement in the trilogy’s clean-up spot. Placed in lead-off, it’s liberated from the expectations of having to tie up the entire 270 minute affair; similarly the convict is liberated from his role as the peripheral bogeyman who haunts the main characters of the other films. What emerges is a chronicle of the modern day monster’s bittersweet interlude of freedom, a period where his thoroughly unfathomable motivations are finally free from the misapprehensions of others (including the other films). With an unsettling calm to his craft, Hochhäusler stares into the eyes of an existence orchestrated by an impenetrable mystery.
Don’t Follow Me Around (dir. Dominik Graf) The story shifts to a female state psychologist assigned to help catch the escapee; but while staying in town with a college friend, her own past comes under scrutiny. The educated, well-to-do characters indulge in elaborately witty repartee, bourgeois mannerisms that ultimately yield to an undercurrent of jealousy and deceit. Easily the most scripted of the three entries, the swiftness of the dialogue is matched by that of the plotting, where multiple subplots swell like tide pools, offering sudden new dimensions of corruption and violence to the sleepy small town setting. Using a distinctly grainy 16 mm-like stock (the other segments are shot in crisp HD), the film’s look and feel resembles a faded photograph, as if to emulate the story’s account of memory and perception’s inherent distortions.
Beats Being Dead (dir. Christian Petzold) While Hochhäusler invokes detective, monster movie and fairy tale genres, and Graf mashes domestic melodrama with cat-and-mouse cop movie, Petzold’s piece is a teen dream of desire and deception cast under a Hitchcockian spell. While news of an escaped convict buzzes through town, a young hospital intern falls head over heels for an immigrant girl; their extended mating dance unleashes newfound reserves of lust, tenderness, jealousy and betrayal, all dealt with stunning swift force. Like Hitchcock, Petzold plays a meticulous game of perspective-shifting to tilt our sympathies back and forth between the two lovers until the point of irreparable damage is reached. To open this epic crime saga with a passing teenage romance is a ballsy flirtation with the frivolous. But to watch this section last brings the trilogy’s catalog of crimes squarely back home, placing sensational headline killings alongside the millions of emotional murders inflicted every day. – Kevin B. Lee
WATCH THE FILMS OF CHRISTIAN PETZOLD ON FANDOR
Crazy Horse (dir. Frederick Wiseman)
The 81 year-old father of modern documentary utilizes his patented observational techniques to ogle at Paris’ most celebrated skin show. The result is a dose of aesthetic Viagra for his famously stoic approach. Less focused than usual on his longstanding mission of capturing how institutions shape social interaction, Wiseman seems far more interested in examining the abstract interplay of light, color and female body parts in shaping an aesthetic experience. In this sense the film may represent some of the most subjective, self-reflexive work of his career, though by the time we get to a five minute close-up of a woman’s gyrating genitals, his fixations become both tedious and not a little dubious. – Kevin B. Lee