'Vivere's' moody look at three lives

Times Staff Writer

Coincidence stretches credulity in "Vivere," a small German film about three women whose lives intersect over one fateful Christmas Eve.

Francesca (Esther Zimmering) is the elder daughter of a histrionic Italian father and a German mother who left the family when Francesca was a child.

She lives with her father and younger sister, Antonietta (Kim Schnitzer), in a small apartment on the outskirts of Cologne, where Francesca dutifully waits on her family and drives a cab at night. When Antonietta mysteriously disappears the night before Christmas to accompany her musician boyfriend to Rotterdam, their father becomes hysterical and sends Francesca off to Holland to find her.

The older sister doesn't get far before she comes across a wrecked car on a lonely road with an unconscious woman slumped inside it. She stops to help and soon finds herself pulled in by her mysterious aura.

With her fur collar, stony silence and smoldering cigarettes, Gerlinde (Hannelore Elsner) is cultivating a serious Garbo vibe. She mutely accepts a ride to the hospital, only to hop off her gurney and sneak back into Francesca's cab. The women then decamp for Rotterdam, where Gerlinde once spent an unforgettable weekend with the married lover who has jilted her.

Taking place over a day, the story is told and retold from the perspective of the three women, with minor changes to account for slight variations in memory or perspective. The discrepancies are telling (each character sees herself in the most sympathetic light) but not necessarily illuminating. Director Angelina Maccarone would have us meld their lives into a single allegorical existence, although I found it hard to locate the brooding twenty-something in the spirited teenager or the mysterious older woman in either one of the sisters. Sharing a certain bored desperation, they do make a compelling case for tedium and longing as the province of neither young nor old. Every age, the director seems to say, has its terrors and disappointments.

Francesca's story comes first, though we don't learn much about her beyond the parameters of her sister's (and the mysterious stranger's) rescue. It's hard to buy the young and lovely Zimmering as a lonely and friendless cabbie so desperate for human connection that she treats her disoriented accident victim like a coffee date, no matter how clearly her father prefers her sister over her. After a while the story retraces its steps and we learn that Gerlinde recently retired from her job and spent Christmas Eve alone when the woman she loves failed to show up for dinner. Maccarone goes back over the story gracefully, so that it doesn't feel like we've seen it before, weaving the retraced steps together with new scenes of Francesca and Antonietta making their way through Rotterdam and introducing Antonietta's recent history into that. The wave-like "Rashomon" structure of the story, combined with the steady pace and moody look of "Vivere" are lulling, but in the end the situation is neither believable nor fantastic enough to be very compelling.

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carina.chocano@latimes.com

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"Vivere." MPAA rating: R for some sexual content, language and brief drug use. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes. In German with English subtitles. Exclusively at Laemmle's Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (323) 848-3500.

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