Dir: Christian Petzold. Germany. 2001. 102min.

The word terrorism is never mentioned in The State I Am In, but it hangs over the film like a omnipresent, menacing fog. For, with his first theatrical outing, director Christian Petzold has chosen to comment on the 1970s, Germany's dark decade of politically motivated violence. His subtle and quietly approach hits home in a no nonsense way by dissecting the lives of his protagonists. However, for German audiences it appears to have been too subtle, taking around $0.5m in just over two months. International prospects are therefore likely to be subdued, although it may find a niche on the festival or arthouse market.

Clara (Barbara Auer) and Hans (Richy Mueller) are living under false identities, still wanted by the police for the parts they played in acts of terrorism more than 15 years ago. From their own point of view they have committed one deadly sin: conceiving and bringing up a child, Jeanne (Julia Hummer), who, as she grows older, is likely to demand more freedom and risk blowing their cover. The family are in the process of setting up a new life in South America when they are identified in Portugal while posing as tourists. They barely escape, leaving behind their travel money, and are forced to flee back to Germany, seeking out funds from their former comrades in crime.

Petzold choses to focus his narrative on Jeanne, who can never attend school(Clara teaches her at home instead), never has any friends and has never stayed in one place long enough to find a boyfriend. But now, as a teenager, Jeanne is old enough to rebel against her upbringing, goaded on by the eternal moving prison that has been her existence as part of the family's secretive and nomadic lifestyle. Hans' (Mueller) and Clara's (Auer) omnipresent paranoia and barely controlled nervousness act as a superb foil to the suspenseful mood, which acts like a slow, drumming bass while they develop the tunes of their characters.

The pair, who are established name actors in Germany, flesh out their parts well. Similarly Hummer has risen to prominence through the likes of Gigantics and Crazy. The young actress is a true find, giving a self-assured and credible performance and admirably at ease exploring the psychological range of the central character.

Petzold built his name with several productions for public broadcaster ZDF(Pilots, Cuba libre, The Sex Thief) and has continued to show a sure hand with character-driven features such as this. His inspiration for exploring the underground lives of former terrorists was triggered by the death of terrorist Wolfgang Grams who was shot by police while on the run .

Petzold found that Grams, while hiding in anonymity, had tried to build a new life, spending his time making jam preserves and writing songs. Co-writer Harun Farocki also adds weight to the proceedings; he is best known for features and documentaries that explore the badly healing wounds in society caused by such horrors as Auschwitz and Vietnam, as well as the end of communist Romania.

Prod cos Schramm Film Koerner & Weber, Hessischer

Rundfunk, ARTE

Int'l sales First Hand Films

Prods Florian Koerner von Gustorf, Michael Weber

Scr Christian Petzold, Harun Farocki

Cinematography Hans Fromm

Prod des Kade Gruber

Ed Bettina Boehler

Music Stefan Will

Main cast Julia Hummer, Barbara Auer, Richy Mueller,

Bilge Binguel, Rogerio Jaques, Maria Joao