Wolfsburg (2003)

14 11 2008

While this is certainly a lot better than Christian Petzold’s later film Yella, it is also still a far cry from his great Gespenster. Watching this film was actually a much more frustrating experience than watching Yella, only because it confirmed some of my worst fears about Petzold as a filmmaker. Sure, Yella has just as many if not more absurd dramatic touches as this film, but I guess I was convinced they were just a one time thing for Petzold. Judging from the last ten minutes of this film, Petzold is just really interested in completely silly dramatic turns. To his credit, he does have these overly-dramatic sequences progress in a very unassuming manner. Still, I can only wish that his dramatic sensibility was as subtle as his visuals.

Petzold does actually set the audience up for the worst (in terms of shrill-ness) by opening his film with a sequence of the main character, Phillip Wagner, accidentally hitting a kid in the middle of an empty road. He drives off from the accident, though, and the film seems to drive off from the melodramatic nonsense with him. While the small child is left abandon on the side of the road, we are introduced to his mother, Laura. The accident, as one can expect, has a very polarizing effect on her, but her son seems to get better with time.

From here, the film gives a very unhurried examination of the lives of both characters, Phillip and Laura. There is this very genuine, unforced sense of sadness echoing through the uneventful (the opening accident aside) lives of every character. Petzold’s visuals aren’t quite up to the level with the directors he seems to be taking ques from, but there are some flashes of brilliance in a few distant static shots that seem to come out of Edward Hopper paintings. Tsai Ming-Liang can do this for a whole movie, probably, but that’s exactly why he is such a brilliant filmmaker. Petzold’s visual accomplishments are very incredible, even though they are far from overwhelming.

The last ten minutes or so are completely ridiclous and an embarrassment to any film made by a filmmaker who is as obviously talented as Petzold. It all makes sense, though. Even Gespenster had a really silly b-plot (though maybe it was the main story in Petzold’s mind) involving the main character’s parents. It seems the minor problems I’ve had with all of Petzold’s film up to this point have not been odd, unplanned lapses into melodrama, but instead planned attempts to be shocking. Bruno Dumont does this sort of thing in his films, but the difference is that his films are actually somewhat shocking, while the conclusion to Petzold’s is just laughable.