Windows on Monday (2006)

2 07 2008

After watching what was essentially “the Berliner Schule sell-out” in Christian Petzold’s Yella, it was reassuring to watch this and be reminded why this young group of filmmakers are the best out there. It’s been a fairly long time since I’ve seen a film incapable of being pinned down, or confined to any category. It starts out like a really great Dardennes inspired family drama, then turns into a more surreal modern day version of Fires on the Plain before indulging in some “fucked up” relationship content. All in all, one of the most exciting cinematic experiences one can possibly have, assuming they are genuinely interested in the progression of film as an art form.

Nina is a (relatively) newly-married women with a young daughter. She and her husband begin renovating their house. Combined with her husband’s sensitivity, the possibility of another child, and the “next step” in life, she becomes anxious and runs away to her brother and his girlfriend living out near a forest. Her impulsive continues and she moves on to a hotel. She manages to live off of scraps left over in the hotel’s kitchen. Some sort of event involving a tennis legend is taking place, hence her inability to be noticed. In the mean time, her husband becomes increasingly worried and begins an affair with an old friend.

On paper this is indeed another “problematic marriage” movie and the world really doesn’t need anymore of those. But again, that is only if one observes the “important” events of the film and not the wonderfully odd occurrences. The whole section in which Nina merely walks around the hotel and stumbles upon very strange scenes is so wonderful in that it details the depth of her alienation but is also completely captivating. Perhaps describing the sequence in and of itself makes it out to be a laborious experience, but that is hardly the case. In fact, I would go as far as to that this one of most watchable films ever in the sense that sequences are loaded with enough technical brilliance to work in and out of context.

It should be stated that this doesn’t make the film’s sensibility to be dry or even intellectual. On the contrary, this is about as visceral as cinema can get. Personally, I have an inherent love for anything that uses that sort of shakycam tracking style. When it is so brilliantly and frequently as it is in this film, it is quite difficult for me to not get completely excited. Maybe Kohler is pandering to the needs of arthouse nerds, but even then, making a technically brilliant film is no easy task. It’s not as though as capturing such the mood as he does in this film is something that very few filmmakers can do. That alone gives him my utmost respect, but the fact that the film’s emotional side is just as striking makes it a masterpiece.

Yella (2007)

2 07 2008

Pretty much a failure on all fronts, even more so because this is Christian Petzold’s follow-up to the great Gespenster. All the minor annoyances in that film become the basis for this, and the result is nothing more than a technically well-executed film not far from a conventional Hollywood thriller. It does maintain a passable sensibility for about an hour but the fact that Petzold would choose to make a film so shrill and well, silly just negates any other positive aspects of the film.

Yella is desperately trying to get her violent ex-husband, Ben, off her back but it simply is impossible. He follows her everyone in spite of a restraining order and when Yella goes for a job interview, he offers her a ride. She reluctantly agrees and unsurprisingly, Ben quickly gets angry which results in the car falling off the side of the bridge. Yella escapes unscathed while Ben is presumably dead. Her first day at work is an odd one as the man who has hired her seems to be in the process of being fired. He transfers her to another branch where she begins a partnership with Philipp. Their extended time together helps their relationship to grow, but Ben continues to linger in Yella’s head.

Spoiling the ending would probably be helpful as it would save many people a lot of time. The film’s few positive moments, though, are (as expected) the ones that have nothing to do with the completely predictable Hollywood thriller narrative. Essentially, the awkward interactions and the beautiful photography are the only signs of this being a Petzold film. Everything else is pretty embarrassing, especially considering that Petzold could still very well be one of our greatest hopes in cinema. On the other hand, it does seem like he pieced this together rather half-heartedly which would indicate that he wasn’t too concerned with this particular project. Hopefully, his next effort will provide a better showcase for his talents.