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Gila von Weitershausen,
I've been a fan of Wolfgang Petersen ever since I got to interview him (and Jurgen Prochnow) in NYC nearly 30 years, on the eve of the debut of DAS BOOT. His very first movie, made a decade earlier, is a meticulously realized, moody thriller.
Fortunately I didn't know the English translation of the German title (which is quite a spoiler), watching an untranslated print. Ursula Sieg, who had previously made a short with Petersen and was married to him, is terrific as the leggy femme fatale heroine, taking a long train ride to Berlin. Petersen, displaying amazing technical skill as a neophyte helmer, creates inventive, atmospheric scenes and shots as we observe Sieg's aloof, icily cool manner towards quirky fellow passengers in her compartment, inter-cut with shots of the train at work (featuring a Petersen-esque engineer) and flashbacks of the story.
She attended a performance of "Of Mice & Men", with the climax of George killing Lennie well-staged (in German) here. After she gets the leading player Wolf's autograph (he played George), she started a romance with him, but he's a married man.
In classic film noir fashion, they plot against the wife, and in a chilling sequence set atop an observation platform on a high tower, Sieg, surrounded by a school group of young children, pushes the wife off.
This sequence, and many others, show the influence of Hitchcock, and are extremely well-executed by Petersen without a sense of imitation. He employs terrific black humor for the climactic sequence after Sieg's train arrives in Berlin, and she suddenly kills boy friend Wolf with a knife. Her brand-new landlord is a peeping tom, and his surveillance of her is not merely humorous, combined with slapstick elements, but also key to creating the suspense of whether she will be caught.
Running barely an hour long, this was apparently a student film for Wolfgang, and as such is a model of how much quality can be packed into a low-budget format. Given my admiration for his small-scale works, not just this one but also especially THE CONSEQUENCE and BLACK AND WHITE LIKE DAYS AND NIGHTS, it's a shame that the Peter Principle following DAS BOOT channeled Petersen into increasingly huge-budget spectacular filmmaking (though another noir SHATTERED was effective and more personal).
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