Jerichow Movie Review
That is, more or less, the setup for Christian Petzold's Jerichow. It is the second film released stateside by the German director and it is, in every possible way, a superior piece of filmmaking compared to Yella, Petzold's previous work. Written by the director, it spins the sort of atmospheric noir that elicits much of its dark lustfulness and crafty beguilement through the patience of its imagery and a deep devotion to natural sound.
From these shadowy beginnings, Petzold continues to spring the most delicate of surprises. Ali owns a chain of snack stands and, at first, hires Thomas only as his driver and assistant. That is, until Thomas expertly disables a crooked employee who comes at Ali with a knife. Though it is mentioned early on, we never discover why Thomas was dishonorably discharged, but we know he's a dangerous man. Indebted to the one-time soldier, a drunk Ali doesn't notice his new friend and his wife going at it right outside his bedroom. An excellent touch: Laura and Thomas biting each others' hands to keep quiet in the dark hallway.
When Ali plans a trip to his birthplace in Turkey, overseeing the construction of a new house for Laura and him, the possibilities of the narrative open up. We see Ali heading into the airport, waiting for Thomas to drive off, and then walk right back out into another car. The audience is now given an angle of paranoia, unable to know if Laura and Thomas' every move is being watched by the meta-jealous Ali. Hans Fromm, Petzold's regular cinematographer, eerily accentuates the open space of the Brandenburg countryside to give the images a feeling of prying.
Despite the fact that Jerichow lacks a sense of purpose outside its loose noir mechanics, it succeeds as a tight genre exercise in tone. As in Yella, the female lead is played by Ms. Hoss and the actress' skeletal face again becomes a landscape for all the internalized drama and repercussions that Petzold has orchestrated. Titled for a small town outside of Wittenberge, Jerichow is a film of smoldering mood rather than a study of one character or another, despite being top-lined by three astute and complex performances. Nothing that Thomas and Laura do is as immediately penetrating as the shot of Thomas coming out from the dark for a single moment to hold Laura's moonlit hand and then receding into the darkness again before Ali spots him. It's this attention to emotional nuance that allows Petzold's film to defy easy categorization.
Nice beach there at least.