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Jerichow ***½

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JerichowJerichow is a thriller noire from a leading figure of the New German cinema, Christian Petzold. It’s a beguiling, finely controlled work that opens with an uncharacteristic volume, when actor André Hennicke (who last appeared at EIFF as the sinister, skeletal anti-star of Antikorper) explodes in the face of our tempered protagonist, on account of debts left unpaid following the death of his mother. Returning home to rural West Germany from military duty in Afghanistan, Thomas (the absurdly handsome Benno Fürmann) needs to find work.


Jerichow2After a brief stint as a cucumber harvester (an oddly mechanised process, it seems; and a scene stolen by Thomas’ knowing look skyward as a fighter jet rockets overhead), he runs into Ali Özkan (Hilmi Sözer) who has, in turn, literally run his car into a ditch. Through an act of generosity, Thomas finds himself employed as Ali’s driver, after the Turk drinks away his driving license. As Ali comes to realize Thomas is excellent muscle, he is swiftly fast-tracked to become right-hand man in a small empire of roadside cafés – and Thomas swiftly falls for his boss’ wife, Laura (an even more tightly wound Nina Hoss).


Jerichow3This relationship, that between Ali and Thomas, each character in themselves, betray an explosive tension periodically vented in a series of dramatic turns that make for compelling viewing. Petzold plays with genre-expectations to great effect. He also has a fetishistic eye for controlled power that capitalizes on the sheer physicality of Fürmann. This sometimes also leads to a dreamlike interaction between characters, who delay in interacting with one another to potent effect: as though disconnected from reality.


Themes of the economic and political life of multi-cultural Germany get a run through, and there are also nods to contemporary war and Germany’s unique historically-informed posture toward it. These do not distract from what is at core a strong and dramatically creative film which showcases just what wonderful stuff is coming out of cinema in contemporary Germany.


Jerichow, Dir. & Writ. Christian Petzold, ARTE, Germany, 2008


Written by James P. Campbell

18/06/2009 at 12:10

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