Sunday, June 15, 2008

66. German filmmaker Christian Petzold’s “Yella” (2007): Life beyond death

Germany’s Christian Petzold belongs to the new breed of European directors that loves to make films layered with meaning for the astute viewer. Russia’s Andrei Zvyagintsev mesmerized serious film-goers with his multi-layered films that urge film-goers to approach cinema as one would approach a challenging and intelligent puzzle to derive maximum entertainment. Spain’s multi-talented Alejandro Amenabar has proved that a holistic mix of good screenplay, music and direction can result in films that recall the precocious brilliance of the young Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane made so many decades ago. These are films that are delectable for the intelligent and patient viewer who does not demand to be spoon-fed by the director. Members of this exclusive club of directors include Austria’s Michael Haneke and Finland’s Aki Kaurismaki. In Yella, Petzold throws morsels of visual treats at the viewer. The attentive viewer will ask for more, for the less attentive it will be an invitation to snore.


“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 provides clues to understand 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 director—all 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. Even though I viewed Yella while on a trans-Atlantic flight, I found the film worthy to be included on this blog. Petzold is definitely worth your time if you are a viewer of serious, quality cinema.



P.S. Works of Michael Haneke, Wim Winders, Aki Kaurismaki, and Andrei Zvygintsev have been reviewed earlier on this blog.

2 comments :

Mitika Kanwar said...

very interesting. glad to read your blog. i loved your description. I've seen the film twice and there's just one thought that i can come up with. i wont be elaborate with it but the movie is showing negative aspects of over-ambitiousness. with too much of ambition one loses love. the movie teaches us to have equilibrium in life. simpler, the better!

Anonymous said...

Petzold's the last work about an East-Germany story ; Barbara-2012, 105 min. with Nina Hoss again is excellent. I also advise Ghosts-2005.

Sancar Seckiner

There was an error in this gadget