German writer-director Christian Petzold transforms the classic American cult movie CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962) into a
bleak drama about soul-sucking alienation in the reunited Germany.
Unemployed and seperated from her insanely possessive husband, Ben (Hinnerk Schonemann), accountant Yella Fichte
(Nina Hoss) is desperate to escape Wittenberge, her hometown in the Former East Germany. Her opportunity arrives
in the form of a new job in Hanover, in the west. Yella unwisely allows Ben to drive her to the train station -- he
looks so contrite and anyway, in Hanover she won't have to deal with him any more -- and Ben uses the opportunity to
accuse her of being a heartless gold-digger who abandoned him as soon as the company they started together foundered.
He then drives the car off a bridge, plunging them both into the icy waters of the Elbe.
Miraculously, Yella emerges from the water damp and bedraggled but alive; she even makes her train, changing clothes in
her compartment and generally making herself presentable before disembarking at Hanover, where everything that can possibly
go wrong does. Her new employer has neglected to pay the deposit on her hotel room -- were it not for the wad of bills
her father pressed into her reluctant hand that morning, Yella would be out on the street in a strange city. She has an odd
sort of blackout -- suddenly everything goes quiet, as though she were underwater, and later that evening has words with a
fellow guest in the dining room after he insinuates that she was snooping around his laptop, when in fact she was simply drawn to
his screensaver, a soothing image of tropical waves. Yella gets to work the next day to find her new boss, Dr. Smith-Ott (Michael
Wittenborn), in the middle of being fired; he makes vague promises of a new job in another city -- he doesn't even seem to
remember what he hired her to do in the first place -- and then propositions her in a taxi. Close to despair, Yella walks
back to her hotel and runs into Philipp (Devid Striesow), the truculent guest from the previous night. He turns out to be a
venture capitalist, and he's changed his tune because he's in a bind: He has a meeting that afternoon and needs someone who
knows spreadsheets -- or can fake it -- to accompany him. Both are surprised to discover that Yella has a real
flair for cutthroat financial negotiations: Not only does she have the smarts to see through creative accounting and deceptive
balance sheets, but bluffing, cat-and-mouse power plays and cynical head games come naturally to her. Philipp promptly hires
her on an ongoing basis. But even as things seem to be looking up, Yella is haunted by the feeling that something is dogging her heels, and not just Ben, though she spots him lurking in the shadows outside her hotel. Yella feels somehow disconnected, like a sleepwalker who's never sure whether she's awake or dreaming.
Viewers familiar with CARNIVAL OF SOULS will know what's the matter with Yella from the moment she crawls to shore; those who aren't may find the film's final revelation out of sync with its overall tone of bleak realism. Either way, Petzold's overarching metaphor is blunt but eerily apt: Yella's wholehearted embrace of cutthroat capitalism comes at a price, one she uncharactersitically
agrees to pay without closely examining the metaphysical balance sheet. (In subtitled German)
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- Released: 2007
- Rating: NR
- Review: German writer-director Christian Petzold transforms the classic American cult movie CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962) into a bleak drama about soul-sucking alienation in the reunited Germany. Unemployed and seperated from her insanely possessive husband, Ben (… (more)