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This dark psychological thriller draws us slowly but surely into Maria's strange world. Tension mounts as she is buffeted by interactions with her abusive husband, demanding father, and meek paramour. This housewife, who initially appears outwardly unassuming and unremarkable, is shown to possess an inner landscape of the mind which is twisted and scarred. Techniques of German Expressionist cinema gradually give us insight into her psyche. Why does she write letter after letter to herself, stashing them in a living room cabinet? Secret after secret is gradually revealed, until the chilling and disturbing conclusion. Written by
Tad Dibbern <DIBBERN_D@a1.mscf.upenn.edu>
Early Tykwer -- fine craft, self-indulgent freudian script
Given the excitement and the exhilarating surprises of Tykwer's subsequent work, this early film is a rude, depressing surprise, a claustrophobic brooding piece obsessively focused on hopelessness. Tykwer's craft in cinematography and direction is evident, but his script is one that might have been put together by a movie-bedazzled Goth high school student.
Yes, cinema can transform realities, altering time and transforming today's listless oppressed housewife back into her avatars as tentative child or as wide-eyed adolescent tasting a first, unexpected kiss; it can magic the lean young suitor into the indifferent, casually arrogant husband of later years; and it can change the powerful father into a bed-ridden, harsh demanding child. And as Tykwer demonstrates, letters become flashbacks, an inanimate statute has its own point of view, and dreams deliver incomprehensible alterations of reality.
But -- every character in this depressing story is progressively degraded in the telling of events that develop in confusing fashion over 25 years. The setting is a dark, depressing apartment building from which little of the action escapes; when Maria goes out to shop, the camera follows her gaze down toward her feet, rarely looking outward. Tentative, stuttering Dieter (Joachim Krol) lives downstairs, hemmed in by towering piles of crumbling newspapers and books, so that rather than offering the escape we wish for Maria (for we do, despite it all, hope for her to open finally and to take flight), he is no more than one more suffocating prisoner of the gloomy lower middle class German tenement.
And then the freudian symbolism, please -- this is the most arrant pseudo-psychological indulgence. Dark, dark, dark. The African statuette, phallus shaped, hiding place for Maria's paltry hoard, with dream powers to impregnate; the obsession with the frustration of sexuality; Maria's hoarding of letters to herself; messy rebirth, menstrual flow and vomiting; her intent killing of common household insects that she collects in a closed display box; and Tykwer's familiar confusion of falling and flight.
About halfway through the viewing, the surprises of time manipulation lose their charm and the film becomes increasingly "laengweilig" -- not "boring," the usual translation, but literally drawn-out in time, as if the resolution will never come. It does -- but there is little satisfaction and not much hope in this ending, which literally throws Maria and Dieter together, on the ground, in the grim courtyard of the building.
This film, available in Germany in VHS only, is one for the obsessionists who must own or know ALL of Tykwer. It's a waste of at least two fine actors (Petri and Krol). We can be thankful that Tykwer got most of this out of his system and survived somehow as a film maker despite it.
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