If high-powered board meetings, corporate acquisitions and endless business-driven road trips are what blows your hair back, Yella is the movie for you. Indeed, so thorough is writer-director Christian Petzold’s immersion in this particular arcana that it almost seems a penance for every film reviewer who opted for a Bachelor of Arts degree rather than one in business.
Petzold’s film spins the grim tale of Yella (Nina Hoss), on the run from her abusive ex-husband Ben (Hinnerk Schoenermann) and on her way to a new job in sales, at which she has always been something of a wiz. She winds up in Hanover, Germany, and encounters a disturbingly horny boss (Michael Wittenborn) and then Philipp (Devid Striesow), a venture capitalist who enjoins her to become his partner.
There’s no doubting Petzold’s cleverness and smooth directorial technique, but the film feels far too schematic and, even allowing for its unrelentingly mercenary premise, far too cold to inspire much viewer identification. It’s slickly filmed with an almost antiseptically clinical look to it, which adds to the general froideur.
The performances, while highly able, don’t bring much warmth to this office party. Hoss is one formidable ice princess and, although the treatment she receives at the hands of her ex is reprehensible, one can’t help feeling an iota of sympathy for this poor slob who was deserted by her largely because of his inability to make more money. Striesow has a matching glacial charm and only adds to the general impression that this film would make a great training manual for future would-be captains of industry, with its emphasis on boardroom body language and the like—as powerful as any at a high-stakes gaming table.
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