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German thriller starts sharply, dulls by the end
The German offering " Yella" begins with an utterly gripping first 15 minutes, follows with a passable drama and ends with a big disappointment.
The opening of Christian Petzold's stark, steely tale immerses you in the horror of the life of the title character, an attractive young woman trying to escape an abusive marriage.
We see Yella (Nina Hoss) walking with a determined air on the street, viewed both through the camera's omniscient lens and from the vantage point of the eyes of her husband (Hinnerk Schonemann), who's following her ominously in a car.
He stops and gets her attention, and you learn a great deal about the marriage from his barely restrained aggression and the convincing, unsettling terror that takes over Yella's mien and mood. As he follows, she forces him to keep his distance, afraid of any contact.
Later, about to take a train for a new job, he persuades her to let him give her a ride to the station, terrorizes her along the way and then drives the car off a bridge, plunging them and the vehicle into water.
Both crawl dazed to the shore, but Yella wakes first, makes it to the train and begins her journey soaking wet.
In Hanover, she finds herself involved with more dubious men, beginning with the new boss, who hired her prematurely, it turns out, right before the company goes belly up. She then encounters a shady businessman and venture capitalist negotiator (Devid Striesow), who hires her as a kind of day-to-day, cash-paid assistant for a series of deals with desperate companies.
Two fascinating themes on modern life invigorate "Yella," the cold world of contemporary finance—Yella's trek takes her from her hometown in the former East Germany to the more cutthroat business realm of the West—and the cold isolation of women in a world of men behaving badly. Yella fights back, learning from the abuse how to circumvent physical cruelty with cunning.
Spousal abuse corrupts women; capitalism corrupts everybody. She tries to steal from her new, impromptu partner at one point, and later, after they become lovers, she attempts a heartless blackmail to save him.
But a lot of this is watered down by hints of supernatural hocus-pocus and a surprise ending I found easily predictable. Petzold would have done better to stick with the brutal, harsh detail employed in delineating the movie's major characters. As is, "Yella" mixes socioeconomic realism and fantasy thriller to its detriment.
Running time: 1:29. Opens Friday at the Music Box Theatre.
No MPAA rating (contains violence and some sexual content).