Tuesday, April 27, 2010


My advice to film lovers is: watch German film, especially East German. Last week we watched Jerichow, a film by Christian Petzold. At first, it seems like a genre film about infidelity, and an obvious one at that. But it's really about theft-- and a wife is only one thing that gets stolen. 

A down-on-his luck guy comes home to bury his mother and moves into her modest house. He wants to renovate it and live there, but he has no money. The opening scene shows him being followed by thugs who want their money back. We don't know what transpired here, but they find their money and take it back. Our hero, Thomas, claims that he just wanted it for the renovations, and planned on getting a job and paying it back.

After a set of circumstances, he ends up working for "Turk Ali," who owns food stands all over Germany and loses his license for drunk driving. Turk Ali came to Germany from Turkey, in part to get out of compulsory military service. Thomas, we know from an encounter with his welfare officer, was dishonorably discharged from the army-- he had served in the Soviet war in Afghanistan.

Turk Ali has a beautiful wife, Laura. We can see what's coming a mile away-- Thomas and Laura fall in love.

Ali is suspicious of everyone, especially Laura. Twice he follows her and spies on her, the second time catching her in the act of being unfaithful with the beverage distributor. But it turns out she's not having sex with him-- the two of them are stealing from Ali, raising the prices of the beverages and splitting the profits.

Suddenly the pattern is clear-- stealing. Everyone is stealing from Ali. The business managers at the stands have various ways of stealing from him. They are even newer immigrants, like the Chinese couple running a modest food stand who pocket the price of an order Ali has set up in order to catch them at it. Then there's the distributors, Laura and Thomas. Only Thomas doesn't steal his money but his wife. Of course, it is still about money. She can't get free of Ali because he took over a large debt for her, and a prenup will send the debt back to her if she leaves him. She may love Thomas, but not enough to live impoverished with him.

There's nothing to do but arrange a sort of Postman Always Rings Twice plot device.

I won't give away the ending, but what I find interesting about this film is it's real comment on the political situation. The young generation of East Germans can't function in the "new" society after the fall of the Berlin Wall. They want the prosperity of capitalism, but seem incapable of being the kind of entrepreneur Ali is so gracefully. They all work for him, which doesn't sit right. They take what they need, or what they feel they deserve. Ali is not a bad guy, but his lesson is that, of course, you can't buy love or friendship or loyalty-- you can't buy anything that really matters.

The film is great-- well-acted and compelling, and a look at a world we don't usually see in film. Don't let the straightforward romantic suspense drama formula fool you-- this is a rich film with a lot of depth.


Susan said...

Sounds great! What year did it come out?

Susan Sink said...

It came out in 2008,2009 in the States. Went to look that up and see on Rotten Tomatoes it got 87% rating (extremely high) and also it's an intentional remake of "The Postman Always Rings Twice," which I picked up on but didn't know was the basis of the script-- actually, the basis of the script, says the director, was a news article about an incident in a Northeastern German town.