Film Review: Jerichow

A modern-day, Teutonic <i>Postman Always Rings Twice?</i> Yes, <i>Jerichow </i>is just that, but minus the needed passion or suspense.

Christian Petzold’s latest feature is a disappointing follow-up to his much more interesting Yella. Though the updated film noir story has relevancy vis à vis the emotional and economic void in the lives of the protagonists, Jerichow never quite catches fire.

In Petzold’s screenplay, Ali (Hilmi Sözer) is a self-made though abusive businessman who runs a chain of fast-food snack bars in Jerichow, west of Berlin. Ali hires a dishonorably discharged vet, Thomas (Benno Fürmann), to help him make his rounds as his driver, but tensions arise when the handsome loner meets Ali’s attractive and adulterous wife, Laura (Nina Hoss).

Laura’s seduction of Thomas leads to a secret affair that threatens Thomas’ job and Laura’s marriage. When the lovers plot to kill Ali, the only question is: Will they be able to pull it off?

Jerichow is less like Petzold’s last film, Yella, and more like Cristi Puiu’s Stuff and Dough (2001), which is also about a destitute young man’s willingness to be a driver for a ruthless businessman without realizing the full implications of the job. Petzold strikes a much more somber and “realistic” mood and feel here than in the quirky “Alice in Wonderland” world of Yella. One only wishes that in its place the writer-director had applied some of the grit and immediacy of the Puiu film.

At least Jerichow is more than competently done. The actors make the enigmatic and generally unpleasant characters almost worth your time and trouble. (Sözer is especially good as the cuckold who is sensitive about his Turkish background.) But, frankly, Nina Hoss is no match for Lana Turner (or even Jessica Lange!). Hans Fromm’s cinematography is smooth and elegant (maybe too much so) and Stefan Will’s sparingly used score is appropriately dark and dramatic.

But Jerichow could have (and should have) been so much more. With a narrative that has been told many times before, it was incumbent on the filmmaker to create something fresh and original out of the material. He didn’t.