Monday, March 9, 2009

Yella (2007)

Taking film studies courses means that you write about obscure films. A lot. So I apologize if you dedicated followers can't read my ramblings because of all of the spoilers. This short essay about Yella is a 2007 German film by Christian Petzold, a contemporary of the Berlin School. According to IMDB, "Yella is estranged from her possessive and violent husband; but he can't quite bring himself to give her up. When their fraught interaction finally comes to dramatic conclusion, Yella's life takes an odd shift." While this is an acceptable summary of the plot, it leaves out a few details that are necessary to understand my essay below. If you are interested, I do summarize the plot in the spoilers below.

Click to read spoilers

You should really only be reading this if you have seen Yella. But just in case you haven't or you need a refresher on the plot, I'll fill you in: Yella is in a car accident near the beginning of the film. Afterward, she begins to have strange experiences/auditory hallucinations and believes that her ex-husband, Ben, who was also in the crash is stalking her. She meets Philipp, a venture capitalist who needs her to accompany him to a meeting. Yella shows proficiency at her new career and becomes Philipp's permanent accomplice. And, as abrupt as this sentence, Yella/the audience realizes that she died in the car accident.

The essay for my film studies class is below.

In Christian Petzold’s film Yella (2007), there is an element of repetition. Throughout the film, Yella repeats certain aspects of her life twice, but with key differences. Yella (Nina Hoss) makes questionable decisions with two untrustworthy men, Ben (Hinnerk Schönemann) and Philipp (Devid Striesow). Repetition is also seen in Yella’s career: she works with Ben at a floundering startup that declares bankruptcy and is later employed by Philipp, a suspicious man who embezzles from his equity firm. In both situations, the circumstances are strikingly similar. Ben and Philipp look very much alike and Yella’s new job involves interaction with businesses such as the one at which she used to work with Ben.

Ben and Philipp may look alike, but they could not be more emotionally different. Ben is an emotional, dependent and pitiful man while Philipp is a calm, collected, and unattached individual. It seems as though Yella’s experiences in life inform her ghost in death. Instead of repeating a mistake by marrying a man similar to Ben, Yella chooses to become involved with Philipp. While Philipp is not a completely trustworthy person by any means, he is undoubtedly an improvement from Ben who stalks and abuses her. Whereas Ben is a weak and needy individual, the last thing that Philipp wants from Yella is commitment. After her death, it seems that Yella finds a way to improve her love life by finding a man who does not possess the same foibles as Ben.

The company at which Yella works with Ben eventually goes bankrupt and is forced to sell. Ben is livid about the fact that he can only get €2,000 for software that cost €80,000. Later in the film, during Yella’s endeavors with Philipp, Yella comes across a company claiming €80,000 in assets for their network and software. Yella announces that the company’s network is probably only worth €2,000. The ghost Yella has learned from her past experience and uses this knowledge to her advantage in her newfound career.

One of the biggest differences between Yella’s life and her ghost’s life is the location in which they take place. Yella lived (and died) in Wittenberg, a town in eastern Germany, while after she dies, she moves west. This east-to-west movement correlates to Yella’s rebirth in character and body and is often demonstrated through the right-to-left movement of the cars and trains in which Yella rides. The lateral motion in which Yella travels is echoed in Petzold’s camerawork with lateral tracking shots. Whereas eastern Germany is usually considered antiquated and many of its towns have been abandoned, the western area of the country is more modern, thus more inhabited. This is essential to Petzold’s message. Paralleling the events surrounding Yella’s death, contemporary German citizens have learned from the pasts of those that have died and have relocated to the West.

To wrap things up (and to make this seem more like a review) Yella is a decent film even if you don't recognize it for its importance in contemporary German cinema. It manages to be suspenseful, charming and intelligent and is framed by Nina Hoss's brilliant performance. To some, the plot twists will be too much to handle. The viewer can easily get stuck thinking, "How?" or "Why?" or mostly, "WTF?" but once the viewer realizes that the answers to the questions do not exist and do not matter, the film hits it's target.

Grade: B-

1 comment:

jimmy monk said...

Carnival of souls.