Germany (89 mi) 2007 d: Christian Petzold
A German stalker flick, highly intelligent in the precise manner in which it builds layer after layer of suspense with a near documentary level of realism, using the accumulation of the most banal details, where of all things, the psychological strategy of analyzing hidden corporate assets in order to get the upper hand in mundane business meetings is used in a remarkably effective manner that helps add to the build up of suspense. Nina Hoss, winner of Best Actress at Berlin, is picture perfect as the non-descript Yella, stalked by her abusive ex-husband, Hinnerk Schönemann, where the interior effects of being beaten down by the relentless browbeating tactics of this monster are evident all over her face. She decides to seek a job opportunity outside of town in hopes of making a new start away from him, but he’s all over her every move. The creepy nature of their relationship is highly unsettling, but that is the nature of stalkers. The viewers are treated early on to a series of anxious close calls where it appears this guy is the kind of trouble that’s never going to go away, where she actually survives his intentional crash driving them both through a bridge railing into the river below. Afterwards as she walks up a muddy embankment in her high heels, there’s a snicker of bleak humor as it’s also evident they “both” survived.
Despite the deliberate pace of the film, revealed through a series of hotel room and business meeting vignettes that are exemplary examinations of detailed minutiae, the director adds some mysterious Antonioni-like side effects, the sound of rushing water, the rustling of the leaves, a screeching bird, all of which nearly incapacitate Yella is if she is being paralyzed by an unseen or imaginary force. She inevitably snaps out of it, but this mind-altering pattern repeats itself throughout. Her venture into her new life takes an unfortunate turn when the guy who hired her has been thrown out of the office for suspected fraud, where we see him hiding out in the parking lot attempting to catch her attention in what resembles a Monty Python skit. What follows is the inevitable realization that she’s been set up, that there is no new job, that it’s all an illusion. But a strange guy meets her in the hotel lobby with one of the worst pick up lines ever who asks if she would accompany him to a business meeting. Little did he know what’s in store for him, as she is a highly skilled, ruthless competitor at the negotiations table, intimidating prospective clients with her shockingly detailed revelations about their financial shortcomings. All of a sudden she’s back in the game again. But little does she know what’s in store for her, as she’s taking her chances with this new guy, and her spells and her stalker keep manifesting themselves in strange ways.
The editing is exceptional in this film, as are the interweaving forces of what might be real and what might be imaginary, remaining ambiguous throughout the entire film, where at center is the appearance of order, surrounded by a constantly shifting chaotic world that is exploding out of control, beautifully connected by the intermittent use of Beethoven’s highly structured “Moonlight Sonata,” Yella - YouTube (1:50), also used to great effect in Edward Yang’s YI YI (2000). The music has such a recognizable sense of order and calm that it settles down the nerves and gives the appearance that all is well. But like John Carpenter in HALLOWEEN (1978), the musical cues may also be a disturbing reminder of the presence of her stalker, who disrupts her perceived calm with his chaotic sense of brutal threats and violence, who abruptly reappears when she least expects him only to terrorize her once again. This has a Rod Serling effect, as her skilled business acumen is undermined by her past that continues to inevitably creep into her present, where she’s forced to relive this same reoccurring nightmare. But all sense of underlying terror is carefully subverted by draining the emotions out of the characters, by Yella’s icy coolness in dealing with financial matters, and by the rigid austerity of the filmmaker’s style.