Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Review: "Jerichow"

One thing I've discovered in my years as a film critic is that the best thrillers often come from outside the United States. Foreign directors seem to have such a different sensibility than the often more action oriented American thriller mentality; giving psychological drama the forefront over obvious thrill seeking.

In German director Christian Petzold's Jerichow, a reworking of The Postman Always Rings Twice, we are introduced to Thomas (Benno Fürmann), a victim of an apparent mob crime who finds himself out of work, when in a chance encounter he meets Ali (Hilmi Sözer), an alcoholic snack bar tycoon, and helps him out of a tight spot. Impressed by and grateful to Thomas, Ali offers him a job as his driver after his license is revoked. Desperate for work, Thomas accepts, and is soon introduced to Ali's beautiful wife, Laura (Nina Hoss). Their friendship quickly turns into a secret love affair, but Ali's suspicious nature and explosive temper are always looming above them, as well as his financial and psychological control over Laura, whom he rescued from a mountain of debt and legal trouble by marrying her.

Hilmi Sözer, Benno Fürmann and Nina Hoss (from left to right) in Christian Petzold’s “Jerichow.” Courtesy of The Cinema Guild.

Instead of inserting unnecessary action or contrived plot twists, Petzold allows the feeling of impending disaster to drive the film, creating a winding and unnerving suspense to flow directly from the inherent drama of the story. I was actually reminded a bit of Michael Haneke's Cache (Hidden) in the film's overall construction and sense of pace. While not quite as good or as nerve-fraying as that film was, Jerichow achieves its goals well. Petzold directs with a sharp eye for creating tension, building his tale of forbidden love and betrayal with only the anticipation of potential trouble.

The actors are the ones who really sell it though. They bring Petzold's tight script to life it a way that is both sexy and disquieting. The overall sense of dread is unnerving and superbly crafted, and even if the ultimate conclusion isn't exactly unexpected, it still feels like a fist to the gut.

Benno Fürmann and Nina Hoss in Christian Petzold’s “Jerichow.” Courtesy of The Cinema Guild.

While not a great film, Jerichow is a compelling and intelligently crafted thriller. Petzold is a confident and skilled storyteller, and he holds the audience in his thrall for the film's entire running time. It's a lean and efficient tale of marital infidelity that never fails to engage its audience. Thrillers like this are few and far between, and when they do come along they deserve to be embraced and celebrated. There truly aren't enough films in the world like Jerichow.

GRADE - ★★★ (out of four)

JERICHOW; Directed by Christian Petzold, Stars Benno Fürmann, Nina Hoss, Hilmi Sözer; Not rated; In German with English subtitles.

3 comments:

Daniel Getahun said...

Awesome, I'm with you all the way on this one. And thanks for the reminder that I need to review it before it hits here in mid-summer.

I never did see Yella, but after seeing this I think I should check it out.

M. L. Kiner said...

"The Hong Kong Connection" is a legal thriller about a gutsy female attorney who takes on high ranking International officials. It's a taut, rollercoaster of a ride from New York to Palm Beach to Washington D.C. to Hong Kong. The plot is expertly woven, the characters persuasive, and the dialogue snappy and spot on.
www.StrategicBookPublishing.com/TheHongKongConnection.html

Eric said...

The key to any film's success is the characters. Popular American cinema has slowly degenerated into nothing more than explosions, car chases, and gratuitous, unnecessary slow motion shots of completely arbitrary actions.