For some, existential business-world drama Yella will be the proverbial mystery wrapped within a riddle wrapped within an enigma. But for audiences with a taste for intellectual stimulation, Christian Petzold's film will be an invigorating tease: its sheer originality and stylistic confidence certainly hit the Berlin competition like a blast of icy water. This portrait of an unknowable female protagonist can only enhance the local reputation of writer-director Petzold (Ghosts, Wolfsburg, The State I'm In).
The elegant quasi-thriller chic of Yella could prove his most exportable yet, if adventurous arthouse buyers take the bait, and festivals will clamour for a title guaranteed to get audiences talking and head-scratching.
Yella is an entrant in what might be called the 'steel-and-glass' school of cinema - a film set in an impersonal world of office blocks and business hotels, where opaque characters cross paths in a world of obscure, seemingly soulless negotations.
Yella (Hoss), a young accountant, checks in at her home town after landing a new job with a business in Hanover, and has a nasty, life-threatening encounter with ex-husband Ben (Schönemann), who's reluctant to let go of her.
Surviving seemingly unscathed, against all odds, Yella ends up cooling her heels in a hotel where she meets Philipp (Streisow), a bullish young executive who recruits her impromptu to back him up in a business meeting.
Yella's efficient, detached cool plays so well in a boardroom setting that Philipp takes her on longer-term. Meanwhile, Ben is hovering around every corner.
Ostensibly a story about a woman trying to shake her past and start a new life,
Yella is far weirder than this suggests, as it takes place almost entirely
within a hermetic world in which impersonality reigns.
Yella moves from hotel room to boardroom to business park with hints of the outside world scrupulously reduced.
Language too is reduced to a functional medium, with characters speaking almost entirely in the language of commercial negotation: even the words 'I love you' suggest a formal protocol.
Characters communicate through subtly inflected reserve, and through body language: in one of the film's more humorous moment, we learn the meaning of the 'broker pose', a negotiating skill often seen, Phillip explains, in John Grisham adaptations.
In a role bound to enhance her intternational status, Hoss is mesmerising as the taciturn, detached Yella, registering emotion mainly through her large, unsettlingly expressive eyes.
As Philipp, Streisow perfectly captures the brutish currents beneath the controlled executive exterior. Hans Fromm contributes precise, exaggeratedly clean photography, and a very sparse soundtrack makes tantalising use of Julie Driscoll's late-60s record The Road To Cairo. A not entirely unexpected twist ending doesn't detract from the overall allure.
Schramm Film Koerner & Weber
The Match Factory
Florian Koerner von Gustorf