Dreileben 1
Etwas Besseres als den Tod

 (Christian Petzold, Germany, 2011) 88 minutes


Director: Christian Petzold
Producers: Michael Weber,
  Florian Koerner von Gustorf
Screenplay: Christian Petzold
Cinematography: Hans Fromm
Editor: Bettina Bohler
Music: Stefan Will
Jacob Matschenz: Johannes
Luna Mijovic: Ana
Vijessna Ferkic: Sarah
Rainer Bock: Dr Dreier
Konstantin Frolov: Maik
Florian Bartholomai: Philipp
Stefan Kurt: Molesch

Reviews and notes

2011 Berlin, Toronto, Vancouver, Locarno, London, New York
2012 Hong Kong, San Francisco

In the Summer of 2006, film directors Dominik Graf, Christian Petzold and Christoph Hochhausler began corresponding with each other on the subjects of film aesthetics, the Berlin School, Germany and the film genre (their correspondence was published in German film magazine Revolver). Two years later they decided to continue this theoretical discussion with a joint film project called Dreileben. It was based on the idea of telling three stories with a common reference point: one place, one summer, one criminal case. At the centre of the project are three stories of people in a small town called Dreileben in the middle of the Thuringian Forest. The lives of the people touch, overlap, intersect, occasionally and seemingly cincidentally intertwine, and yet remain disparate and independent. Below the suface, however, are more connections than initially meet the eye: from various perspectives and with the signatures of the three different directors, all three films deal with old feelings, hopes and wishes that influence and motivate the protagonists.

A convicted killer, released under police custody to pay his last respects to his late mother, escapes from a country hospital at the start of director Christian Petzold’s genre-bending, wonderfully unpredictable Beats Being Dead. But the film soon comes to center on the story of two star-crossed lovers: Johannes (Jacob Matschenz), a shy young hospital orderly, and Bosnian refugee Ana (Luna Mijovic), whom Johannes nobly rescues from the clutches of her abusive biker boyfriend. In the background, a police manhunt proceeds apace, while in the foreground Petzold reminds us there is sometimes nothing as dangerous as first love.
– New York Film Festival 2011.

Christian Petzold's Dreileben Part 1: Beats Being Dead depicts a modern small-town world in all its ennui and greyness and stagnant social order. Events unfold in the midst of a dramatic, yet indifferent, landscape.

The film's title translated means "three lives", and is the name of a small town in the Thuringia forest in former East Germany, which provides the location for this trilogy of films made by three different directors in disparate styles. The police investigation for an escaped mental patient and sex offender in the area ties the stories loosely together.

Johannes (Jacob Matschenz) is an intern in the local hospital. He works at the weekends, the head physician's daughter is his ex-girlfriend and in his room at the nurses' home, he has postcards from America. Johannes takes a swim in the lake, then falls asleep naked in the grass. When he wakes up, it is night and a group of youngsters on motorcycles are arguing, leaving a girl behind half naked. This is how Johannes meets Ana (Luna Mijov), who is a refugee from Bosnia and works as a chambermaid in the local hotel. There is also another man in the forest that night.

In the same spirit as Jerichow (2008), Yella (2007) and Ghosts (2005), Petzold exposes the social machinations behind the seemingly simple love stories. He follows the protagonists to their jobs and beyond. Surveillance camera images are important tools in Petzold's storytelling. The maids come to work dressed in yellow, through the back gate. The intern at the hospital has to undress and collect the laundry from a disturbed homeless woman. A party at the golf club is where Ana wants to go, dressed in red, she burns her competition.

Walks in the forest, where the escaped sex offender might be lurking and police with dogs are ever present. Some of the motifs are obvious, such as the the use of the song Cry Me A River, while some scenes only expose their relevance after seeing all three parts of the trilogy.

Ana, who lives with her mother and little brother in a small apartment and seems to be the only one supporting the family financially, connects Johannes with the guests at the hotel. "You all drink tea," she says, "the guests drink tea all day, like idiots." There are some visual references to Krzysztof Kieslowski, master of the Three Colours trilogy. A poster for "Coffee To Go" with a girl blowing a kiss mirrors the billboard in Red (1994).

Johannes wants to go to medical school in Los Angeles, Ana wants to come with him and quits her job right away. Johannes apologises non-stop. Caught between two women, will he move socially up, or down?
- Anne-Katrin Titze, Eye For Film, 25 October 2011.

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