Dir. Christian Petzold. 2008. N/R. 93mins. In German and Turkish, with subtitles. Benno Fürmann, Nina Hoss, Hilmi Sözer.
Terms like small film and minor work could easily be applied to Jerichow, and they wouldn’t be undeserved. This is an expertly constructed thriller—basically a love triangle in which a down-on-his-luck former soldier (Fürmann) falls for the wife (Hoss) of his Turkish employer (Sözer)—that never rises above the trappings of its genre. Writer-director Christian Petzold has more on his mind than relaying a simple three-hander (it’s not accidental that the title refers to an economically challenged region of Germany), yet nothing resonates beyond the in-the-moment actions of his characters.
Petzold’s rigid-eye aesthetic, which builds an intriguing tension in the early going, ultimately acts as a negating drag on whatever themes he’s trying to illuminate. This leaves us with a trio of terrific actors performing in the service of a great nothing, though even with Jerichow’s many failings, their work is almost enough to recommend the film. It’s difficult to shake Fürmann’s brute intensity, Hoss’s frumpy sensuousness or Sözer’s wizened anguish as they live out their reel-world existence to the final, tragic beat. Petzold gets them to that point through untold contrivance, but what lingers is Hoss’s incantatory reading of the last line—she brings a necessary dose of spirit to the sterility.—Keith Uhlich