IT’S NOT often you encounter a film – or, rather, a good one – that you can confidently describe as sui generis. The latest picture from Christian Petzold, the German director of such insidious delights as The State I Am In, is a small-scale work that still manages to zip through a bewildering array of genres and take in a variety of tones during its economic 89 minutes.
Layered with the sort of psychological conundrums you would expect from a Ruth Rendell story, Yella begins as a drama of abuse and pursuit, then leans a little towards David Lynch territory, before dragging us into a tale of corruption among soulless businessmen. Only the melodramatic ending, which is only half as clever as it believes itself to be, travels through overly familiar territory.
The disarmingly focused Nina Hoss plays Yella, a young businesswoman on the run from a series of personal miseries. The opening scenes find her saying goodbye to her dad before heading off for a new life and a new job in Hanover. Leaving house, she encounters her exhusband, a violent lunatic who has not taken kindly to the break up, and, intimidated by his barely contained aggression, accepts a lift to the station. On the way, he begins arguing with her and, finally blowing his top, drives his car through a fence and into the river.
To this point, Yella has been a largely naturalistic piece of work. When the car hits the water, however, things turn peculiar. Yella emerges from the river, makes her way to the station and, still conspicuously dripping, climbs on the train for Hanover. It later transpires that her new job is not as secure as she had thought and she becomes drawn into a series of puzzling financial deals carried out in bland hotels and the front seat of motorcars.
Punctuating the suffocating drabness of business life with troublingly odd sound design and idyllic shots of nature, Yella quickly takes on the quality of a deadened nightmare. Like the most powerful of bad dreams, it invites close analysis, but never quite yields up its secrets. Which is a long-winded way of saying it is worth watching more than twice.
Directed by Christian Petzold. Starring Nina Hoss, Devid Striesow, Hinnerk Schönemann, Burghart Klaussner, Barbara Auer
Nina Hoss as Yella