Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Yella -

Yella - Yella (Nina Hoss) is running from a failed company and a broken marriage -including a stalking ex who plays on her guilt. She finds work in a new town, but accepts a ride to the station from Ben (Hinnerk Schoenemann), that very angry ex, who hijacks Yella and drives off a bridge into the Elbe. Both Yella and Ben somehow emerge to reach the shore. Yella grabs her bags and catches the train, leaving the unconscious Ben on the river bank, but for the rest of the film she's haunted by the sound of water, an ominous caw from a lone crow and a foreboding rustle of wind.

The new job is a fiasco, her putative supervisor Ott-Schmitt is fired for misconduct on the day of Yella's arrival. Yella's quick witted reaction to the mess reveals a strain of amorality and a naive intelligence, traits that will define her fate. Yella steals a document pouch from Ott-Schmitt's former office at his request, then withholds it from Ott-Schmitt until he offers her a comparable job at his next company. But the pouch contains only cash, Ott-Schmitt has no future, no ability to get a job, much less offer one. Yella's negotiation was doomed before it began, and she ends up on the side of the road.

Adrift back at her hotel, Yella is recruited by Philipp (Devid Striesow), a venture capitalist negotiating to buy a stake in a start-up company. Philipp asks Yella to assist him as, essentially, a prop in a key meeting. She surprises him by discovering a real flaw in the target company's balance sheet, allowing Philipp to cut a better deal. Yella does not seem surprised, or disillusioned, when she learns Philipp is getting paid under the table by his buy-out targets to give the targets a sweeter deal at the expense of his employer. Despite her ability to spot real problems in the target companies and negotiate like a veteran, Yella remains naive when it comes to Philipp. Even after she knows he's a crook (who she could control by threatening a report to his employer) she accepts a fee that's a small fraction of the value she's producing and is terrified she will be dismissed when Philipp tests her and finds she is willing to take a "forgotten" 25,000 euros.

Ben reappears in Yella's room and she runs to Philipp. Romance ensues and for Yella it's the real thing. Phillip's dream is to amass enough kickbacks to buy a company he's identified as a unique opportunity to make millions - all to avoid being a suburban family man with a child, a garage and a green jaguar, the very picture that seems to call to Yella. But Yella's been separated, bankrupted, stalked, drowned and fired - and she's ready to cling to Philipp, even when he's fired after his employer discovers his scheme. Yella pushes too hard to make Pilipp' dream come true with one last big score and the results are disastrous, then eerie.

Director Christian Petzold shoots against spare backdrops and lingers on Yella. Nina Hoss holds the audience with an effective, understated performance that adds grace to an otherwise uninteresting film. Something may be lost in cultural translation (this is a German film with English subtitles), as Yella's trek from guilt and failure in her home of Wittenberg in the former East Germany across the Elbe to flash, cash and moral disaster in the former West Germany means more to a German audience. Other reviewers have hailed the film's metaphysics, but the repeated omens and alternative ending added little for me. The title link will take you to one of many reviewers who felt otherwise. If you want a film about an accountant caught up in a con game, As Good As News recommends The Producers.

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