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It is a gruesome picture that we can see in older European movies: The farmer grabs a ax and cuts off the head of the poor chicken. Whenever such a situation is portrayed truthfully, then one sees that the trunk of the chicken still flutters around for a good bit of time, before the heart stops and gives the final release out of life. All this you do not see in this movie, thanks the heaven, but the question arises what happens in the brain when the body is dead. Is it true that the death of the heart blows out the last gleaming of brain-activities, or is it rather so, that there are relays in the brain that gather all the present information together, not according to the logic of logic, but to the logic of our dreams, everything unreeling in enormous speed until the brain stops because the last feedbacks from the heart-streams who are still in the body, are ebbed away? After Yella is more or less hijacked by her former husband, he wants to kill him- and herself by driving with the car over a bridge and precipitating into the river. However, we see, how first Yella and then Ben come out, exhausted but alive. Interestingly enough, shortly after, Yella reaches the train that she wanted to take for getting to her new job: Not only was the place of the accident far away from the railway-station, but neither did she loose her high-heels in the water nor are her stockings dirty. The three "clue-men" she meets in and around her new job belong to the same type of men. In the hotel, nobody knows about the reservation of her room that she had made some days ago. In a conference with business partners she knows like a psychic that these partners are betrayers and have even profited from the bankruptcy of her husband. We also hear three times a noise like from an airplane after the cry of a raven. Every time the scene changes, like the acts in a stage play. Although it turns out that the manager who gave her the new job, has been fired meanwhile, she manages to jump from part-time job to part-time job in order to prove her that she is capable to manage her life without the "help" of her husband. However, when the film ends, one sees almost the same scenery as at the beginning, after the car with her and her husband crashed into the river. But there is now just one thing: Both Yella and Ben are dead. Obviously, this film by Christian Petzold is the attempt to reconstruct the fragile time between a lethal accident and the death, so-to-say a mental geography of the never-land between beginning and end of death. This is so fascinatingly done in this movie, that my recommendation is unlimited.
Another reviewer on here said: "The dynamic and exciting world of business is transformed into a dull sequence of events, which constantly occur[...]", but I would say this is the one area where the film works - the reality of business IS incredibly dull, repetitive, banal, etc., and is only remotely of interest to those involved who may stand to gain or lose money. The director succeeded in portraying the world of business as one of male posturing and superficiality, where everyone's faking and speaking in numbers to mask their basic needs and desires (i.e. making greed seem logical).
The ending, and all the 'clues' scattered throughout (which are really some of the more obvious ones as far as these sorts of films go), ruin the sense of realism the director manages to build in these business scenes. Like "The Machinist", "Trauma", "Open Your Eyes/Vanilla Sky" and "Lucid", the revelation at the end of "Yella" ultimately doesn't count for anything... Instead of creating an actual mystery, the filmmakers of these films present the appearance of a mystery; instead of cleverness of construction, the appearance of cleverness; instead of being (so-called) 'films that makes you think', they're films that flatter the viewer into thinking they're thinking. But all that's really here is a pseudo-cryptic puzzle with 'clues' and 'symbols' that are quite heavy-handed when one catches on to what is being done, designed to make the viewers confused at the 'weirdness' throughout the majority of the plot, only to have it explained to them at the end so they think they 'get it'. This sort of film-making is basically the equivalent of making up one's own personal coded message, showing it to people who will of course have no idea what it 'means', and then giving them the key to decode it after they're confused - it's an exercise in pretend cleverness on the part of the filmmaker, and any viewer who feels proud of themselves for being able to 'spot the clues' after being given the key has been manipulated into feeling like they managed to do something clever - to 'think they're thinking'...
What is it that makes these kinds of films appealing to us? Is it because the experience of life is confusing and illogical, and deep down we would like someone to come along and give us an explanation, but at the same time we don't want to admit to ourselves that we can't understand things as they are? Films that manage to accurately capture the rhythms, complexities and confusions of actual life are far more mysterious than a film like this that's been self-consciously designed to give the appearance of mystery.
This film is a disappointment after having seen the director's first film, "The State I'm In", which got everything right that this one got wrong...
"Yella" is the name of the main character of the film. (Yella is creatively linked to Wim Wender's key character in his film Alice in the Cities, a character without a mother moving from city to city.). Petzold's Yella has a father but the mother is either absent or not discussed, not far removed from Wender's Yella.
Yella wears red most of the time. Now bright red is worn by many women in Europe but the color acquires a different meaning when you realize its political association with East Germany. Petzold's Yella lives in former East Germany, full of birds, trees, rustic atmosphere and warmth. Petzold's Yella yearns to make big bucks in the former West Germany, less populated, richer and more corrupt at corporate and personal levels.
Halfway into the film, there is a suicidal motor accident. What follows teases the mind of an attentive viewer. A desperate woman boards a train with empty compartments. A male person peeks into her compartment but leaves her alone. Much later, she realizes that the train has reached its destination and has been parked in a yard. As she strolls into town, her eyes meet with those of a woman, who is apparently well off financially and secure in an urban house. This was in my view the most powerful and enigmatic sequence in the film. Who is this woman? Is it Yella comparing what she would be like in future? When her future benefactor turns out to be a crook, Yella "helps" him. Yella herself slowly transforms into a crooked woman as a chameleon would in new surroundings, all the while yearning for the old life of her father and financially crippled husband.
The second half of the film with its almost empty hotels provide a clue to the film, just as Amenabar progressively provided several clues in his well-made ghost movie "The Others" that there is something unreal. Can characters enter locked hotel rooms, eat food and disappear? Would characters who once stalked Yella be transformed into characters that Yella would herself pursue in dark alleyways outside her hotel instead of hiding from them? Who is alive and who is dead? What is real and what is imaginary? Why is the sale price of the husband's business, eerily the same figure as the figure quoted to purchase computers? You are coaxed by your own inquisitiveness to go backwards in the film to figure that out. Somewhere floating in the water after the accident you can spot an empty can of Coca-cola, a symbol of western materialism and prosperity.
There are aspects of the film that bothers me. Why did Yella leave her husband? Because he was obsessed with her? Why is the mother figure absent? Is true love absent? Yella is portrayed by actor Nina Hoss and the performance won her a Silver Bear for the Best Actress at the Berlin Film Festival. The film's editor, cinematographer, and directorall three have been separately honored with minor awards for their contributions in this film. The surprise for me was that the story was written by first time writer Simone Baer, basically an established casting director. It is remarkable that Baer and Petzold should weave an interesting film around personal guilt, aspirations and quality of life. I was intrigued how a male director could delve inside the female psyche so well until I was amused to spot that the original writer was Simone Baer, a woman.
Yella is portrayed by actor Nina Hoss and the performance won her a Silver Bear for the Best Actress at the Berlin Film Festival. The film's editor, cinematographer, and directorall three have been separately honored with minor awards for their contributions in this film. The surprise for me was that the story was written by first time writer Simone Baer, basically an established casting director. It is remarkable that Baer and Petzold should weave an interesting film around personal guilt, aspirations and quality of life. I was intrigued how a male director could delve inside the female psyche so well until I was amused to spot that the original writer was Simone Baer, a woman.
Petzold and the "club" of like-minded European directors invite the audience to think and reflect about themselves after they view these movies. These films offer interesting views on politics, ethics, business and love. They may or may not be obvious. It is for the viewer to spot them. They are not served on a platter. The story on screen remains as a pivotal point for the debate to begin among viewers. These films urge you to consider your own situation in life and reflect how you would react under similar circumstances shown in these films.
Why can't bright people get over the need to duel with the directors and writers of film and, instead, pay attention to what is important? Whatever its shortcomings, this is a look into the psyche of a human being that, at least for me, reveals all the frailties, contradictions and inconsistencies that our species is heir to.
See this film, allow yourself to enter into Yella - then, by all means, dissect and analyze it later.
Christian Petzold uses a bold no frills approach to exhibit this thought provoking film. The narrative has a minimalistic quality which serves the film well, allowing the viewer to focus on the subtle yet compelling performance by actress Nina Hoss. Yella is an intelligently layered film and a triumph for modern day German cinema.
So while the core story is pretty straight forward, it's really the execution which sets this film apart. More specifically, this film succeeds in creating a real atmosphere through minimalistic dialog and camera work dominated by long still and slow panning shots, beautiful lighting and colors contrasting toned down reds and blues, and meticulous sound work which puts you right into the middle of things.
The world created here is one of profound dissociation, where at each moment people seem to be able to relate to each other but can't quite, as everybody is just pursuing his own goals not freely but rather desperately driven and brutally exploitative in consequence.
To support that atmosphere, the film also sports a couple of "magical" stunts which look like an attempt to give it a metaphysical touch. And especially the ending seems to put all past events into a context which wouldn't live up to the tension immediately preceding it. In fact, I found it a bit disappointing on first viewing myself, but it made sense on the second one when I realized that the film doesn't seek a closure which it couldn't satisfyingly present anyway.
Altogether, I'd consider this truly great cinema. It likely won't appeal that much to a viewer who's still fine with run of the mill Hollywood cinema and TV shows, which basically reassemble the same material over and over again thanks to professional writing combined with lack of inspiration and present them in always the same ways, over edited, over color processed, over acted, over scored, over everything. Audiences on the other hand who can e.g. appreciate Russian or Japanese classics will find here a truly original addition to class contemporary cinema I'd say.
The opening sequence, where Ben follows Yella in his car does set a tone, but I think it does not satisfactorily explain why Yella wants to move away from him. To some extent, it doesn't even seem like Yella wants to lose him: at two points Ben breaks into her hotel room, and Yella seems far too acquiescent. One plot hole, at least to me, was how on earth did he manage to get into her hotel room?!? I doubt he just walked up to the reception and asked for the key. Afterwards, Yella doesn't seem to do anything further about it: she doesn't ask for her room to be changed, or even seek advice from anyone.
Yella's 'dodgy job' isn't explained well either, all we know is that there are negotiations, and envelopes of money are exchanged. To some extent, this is acceptable, because Yella isn't given any good explanation of what's happening, and so, we can also be left in the dark. But, considering how much of the film seems to take place in fancy boardrooms, some slight revelation, in due time, of what is actually going on would've been appreciated.
The two lead characters live in a hotel, and what struck me is that neither of them ever close their doors. This is puzzling, especially considering that Yella is, it would seem, attempting to leave her stalker ex. Even more so when the ex has proved that he is capable of entering her room, even when the door is closed. These hotel doors left ajar did provide for one point where I thought 'now the fun begins', and that is when Yella leaves her room and seeks out her companion. Finally it seemed that she took some initiative and would be in charge of her own life, and not drift around being controlled by others. (To that point, it had always been her companion seeking her out.) Yet, what followed was just a parade of new board rooms, with Yella playing second fiddle.
When Yella proclaims her love to her new-found companion, I lost any sympathy I had for her, because it is obvious that she is the typical weak female, falling for 'the bad guy', and she doesn't even try to change her fate. After leaving the stalker bad guy, she falls for the bad guy who steals money from his employer, and seems to hope that all of a sudden life will become better.
The acting was beyond dull. As is typical for this type of film the script was probably five pages long with most of it consumed with "...then there was a long drawn out silence...". By the time of the main actress' tenth drawn out silence I was getting irate.
Further to the point, this German film appears to have come from someone more worried about the soundtrack than the script. A love of "Moonlight Sonata" and "Road to Cairo" may be admirable, but not when the absence of such masterpieces would leave behind a film without the capability to evoke an emotion otherwise. I found myself slightly disgusted with the obvious attempt at using music as a kind of tear-jerker, something that only suggests an inability to do it through screen performance.
There are other pretentious and annoying little snippets within this film, such as a repeating animal noise, and other "symbolic" imagery and sounds. These only serve to reinforce the aforementioned disgust, but they also play a dual role of destroying any mystery about the ending and making this one of the most predictable and uninteresting films ever made.
The ending was so blatantly predictable that most people would probably guess what will happen from about thirty minutes in. Suffice to say, the ending was in the same chord as the rest of the film, pretentious twaddle that leaves you feeling cheated and used like Pavlov's Dog...
Now Yella has another effective performance by Nina Hoss--think of Julia Roberts with more acting ability--but the script somehow doesn't satisfy. It's more Daphne du Maurier when you really want Graham Greene. David Striesow as the cynical yet somehow sympathetic Philipp impressed me; I'd want to see him in another vehicle.
This is a slight movie in which the director Christian Petzold should have been able to carry off.
There is some intertextuality nudging in the direction of Tarkovsky (verdant tree swaying leitmotivs)but the movie never really gets airborne. It's dogged by repetitive mis en scene and dull dialogue and the script never exploits the possibilities of the plot.This is certainly not a bad movie, it just can't live up to the aspiration of its essential donnee and "surprise" if tacked on denouement.
This movie here lets Petzold further rise in my appreciation because I felt his camera work was very good. Nice to see him get some recognition from awards bodies and I am also fine with Hoss winning Lead Actress at the German Film Awards. She was a really good choice for the character I think and it's a painful watch from the perspective to see her being harassed on several occasions. Beauty can be a curse and she looks really stunning in here. No doubt she was up to the challenge of playing a character who is basically in every scene of this fairly short 85-minute movie.
Another thing I liked is that Petzold did a good job in inviting the audience to take guesses what will happen or what may have happened. I guessed correctly very late into the film what really happened and it very much makes sense. Petzold is known for choosing realism over bad and forced happy ending and that's exactly how I love it. I guessed earlier on that Hoss' character may kill Striesow's while mistaking him for her ex-boyfriend in one of her delusions. I had two or three more theories throughout the film, but the explanation Petzold chose at the end was really good. I do believe it was a good way to close the film and now even if you know what happened, it can still be tempting to watch the film, not only because Klaußner's give away depiction at the end, but also in order to recognize little details, for example how much time Hoss' and Striesow's characters spent in cars and how maybe her actions during negotiations may not have fit Yella's character at all. Or how her behavior drifts away more and more from reality, so you may guess the longer it goes, the more ruthless she becomes and she is nobody who intentionally hurts others or even commits crimes herself with her past and background. It all makes sense. I was occasionally tempted to give this film an even higher rating and consider it one of the year's finest, but I decided finally a 6/10 is enough because here and there there were a few not so strong moments and the whole business aspect was something that I, from a subjective standpoint, had no interest in. But that's just me. I certainly recommend the watch here. Petzold and Hoss and other cast and crew members really did a strong job here.