Thursday 8 July 2010

Yella (Review)

What if we try to escape from our past by running away into another dimension? What if that dimension is literally figurative instead of a construct of our minds? And what if that past caught up with us later in the unlikeliest of scenarios?

These are some of the questions that German director Christian Petzold tries to answer with 'Yella', a pessimistic, grim drama, which centres on the life of a woman (Nina Hoss) whose life is turned upside down when she attempts to leave her hometown for a new life and job with better prospects. Tragedy strikes when her violent ex-husband turns up on the day she is leaving, gives her a lift to the station and then tries to kill her by driving his car into a near river. Yella manages to escape and eventually she reaches her destination but discovers the job she was promised was a hoax. It doesn’t exist. It is in these circumstances that she meets Phillip, an unscrupulous investor, whose main agenda is to roam the country looking for smaller companies of which he can take advantage. Yella turns out to be a formidable sidekick and soon the two of them become a lethal duet, cheating their way into and out of deals. Parallel to this, Yella begins to experience small paranormal moments where she can hear voices or sounds from her past. Her former husband, thought dead, also starts to stalk her and when her relationship with Phillip moves from the professional to the amorous, her ex- makes an unwelcome appearance.

'Yella' is a visually striking film, that moves from a desolate East Germany - where the leading character's hometown is located - to the western side of the country. The landscape is a combination of urban modernity and vast fields.The movie also delves into the still unsolvable issue of East vs West. In recent years, German cinema has addressed this topic in flicks such as: ‘Good Bye Lenin!’ and ‘The Lives of Others’. The former is a comedy whilst the latter is a faithful and painful account of the role the Stasi played in hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Germans. 'Yella', by contrast, could be considered a metaphysical thriller, more in the mould of the 'X Files'. However, I couldn't help noticing that it is the East German woman who gets corrupted by the West German ruthless businessman.

Having come out in 2007, 'Yella' is also quite a prescient movie in that it foretells the crisis that venture capitalism unleashed on an unsuspecting world a year later. The world of hedge funds, acquisitions and mergers is well illustrated, mixing moments of witty facetiousness (for instance, when Phillip explains to Yella the theory of the crossed-fingers-hands-behind-the-neck position) with instants of utter desperation which wouldn't look out of place in a David Lynch or Ken Loach film.

And the ending? I usually include spoilers in my film reviews. But not this time. You have to watch the ending. The first time I saw it I was confused. The more I thought about it afterwards, and the more I analyse it now with the benefit of hindsight, the more I've come to the conclusion that the ending is the icing on the cake of a powerful critique of modern society's self-harming tendencies.

© 2010

Next Post: 'Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music', to be published on Sunday 11th July at 10am (GMT)


  1. Rather intriguing because it is a German movie. How did you watch it? With subtitles or you understand German too?

    We do have self-harming tendencies, don't we.

  2. No fair. I'm used to getting neatly wrapped up movie endings from you. I'm generally not a fan of German cinema because of the grimness but this does sound intriguing.

  3. "Metaphysical thriller"--that's a good turn of phrase.

    Cheers from Mim!

  4. Lovely review about a movie that seems bleak and grim; I'll wait until after the World Cup to deal with anything more serious than admiring the male physiques of both teams. The team with the best abs wins?

  5. Hahaha, namastenancy, that's a whole new twist on football.

    Thanks to you all for your kind comments. Ocean, I did German as a minor in Uni (finished it at a branch of the Goethe Institut after graduating from university) so I can speak, write and read. I did have the subtitles on on this movie because first, Yella's accent is difficult (it might be because she is from eastern Germany) and secondly because my wife can't speak German. Still, I enjoyed the movie.

    Mim, that's exactly what I thought after watching the movie. The mix of subjectivity and objectivity is superb.

    Fly Girl, I have always been a sucker for German cinema. Believe me, once you get into the Fassbinders, Wenders and Herzogs of this world, your mind goes into overdrive. :-)

    Greetings from London.

  6. Once more have fallen under the spell of your review..bleak but mysterious is OK with me..Just checked with Netflix..English it's a go..
    Still waiting for "Bashir", another of yours..Thanks for steering me in the right direction!!

  7. That sounds really interesting - and slightly spooky. I'll have to see whether our library has it.

  8. Sounds interesting. The hook for
    me is metaphysical thriller.

    Hopefully, I will be able to
    find this film.

  9. This sounds absolutely my kind of film, I'll look out for it immediately, thanks.



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