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Narrowly escaping her volatile ex-husband, Yella flees her small hometown in former East Germany for a new life in the West. She finds a promising job with Philipp, a handsome business executive with whom an unlikely romance soon blossoms. But just as Yella seems poised to realize her dreams, she finds herself haunted by buried truths that threaten to destroy her newfound happiness. Christian Petzold's YELLA is a stylish and deliciously suspenseful mystery.
- Nothing Ventured: 50-minute documentary by acclaimed filmmaker Harun Farocki, an inspiration for Yella
- Theatrical Trailer
- Optional English subtitles
- Essay by Film Scholar Marco Abel
- Scene Selections
- Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack
July 31, 2008
By Roger Ebert
Yella is a reserved young woman with unrevealed depths of intelligence, larceny and passion. Their gradual revelation makes this more than an ordinary thriller, in great part because of the performance of Nina Hoss in the title role. Soon after we meet her, she's followed down the street by her former husband, Ben, who will stalk her throughout the film. Partly to escape him, she leaves her town in the former East Germany and goes to Hanover to take a job.
Her mistake is to accept a ride to the train station from him. He declares his love, accuses her of betrayal, moans about his business losses. "What time is your train?" he asks. When she says "8:22," he knows her destination. Shortly afterward, he drives his SUV off a bridge and into a river. Miraculously, they escape. Soaking wet, she runs to the train station and catches the 8:22. Yella has pluck.
That the man who hired her in Hanover has been fired and locked out of his office is the first of her discoveries about the world of business. That night in her hotel lobby, she meets Philipp (Devid Striesow), who sees her looking at his laptop and asks, "You like spreadsheets?" She does. She trained as an accountant.
He asks her to go along with him to a business meeting, carefully coaching her about when to gaze at the spreadsheet, when to gaze at the would-be client, and when to lean over and whisper in his ear -- a lawyer's strategy he learned from Grisham movies. She does more than that. She actually reads the spreadsheet, and boldly points out deceptions and false assets. She controls the meeting.
Philipp, who now respects her, brings her along to more meetings, during which she figures out for herself what he eventually confesses to her: "I cheat." She doesn't mind. Then the film enters more deeply into one particular deal involving shaky patent rights and potential fortunes. Her career seems on an upswing, if it were not that Ben (Hinnerk Schoenemann) has followed her to Hamburg.
All of this time, there are eerie episodes when her ears ring, she hears the harsh cry of a bird, and she seems able to intuitively understand things about people. These episodes remain unexplained until the last minute of the film. And just as well. Hoss is an actress who rewards close observation; she is often seen in profile as a passenger in Philipp's car, her eyes observing him carefully, her expression neutral, then sometimes smiling at what he says and sometimes only to herself. One of the pleasures of the film is trying to read her mind.
The writer-director, Christian Petzold, uses a spare, straightforward visual style for the most part, except for those cutaways to trees blowing in the wind whenever we heard the harsh bird cry. He trusts his story and characters. And he trusts us to follow the business deals and become engrossed in the intrigue. I did. I could see this being remade as one of those business thrillers with Michael Douglas looking cruel and expensive and finding his female equal. I'm not recommending that, just imagining it. --Roger Ebert, Chicago-Sun Times
By DEREK ELLEY
After the disappointing sidetrack of "Ghosts," German writer-director Christian Petzold returns to top form in "Yella," another precision-helmed, tightly wound, metaphysical thriller that confirms him as one of Germany's finest middle-generation directors. Topped by a mesmerizing perf from Petzold favorite Nina Hoss ("Wolfsburg," "Something to Remind Me") as a young businesswoman unwrapping her inner demons and ambitions, pic could click on the fest and arthouse circuits in the same way as Petzold's earlier "The State I Am In" (2001), with critical support.
On screen virtually the whole time, Yella Fichte (Hoss) is first seen arriving by train in her home town of Wittenberge, northwest of Berlin and on the banks of the River Elbe. In the street she's accosted by -- and gives short shrift to -- a guy who turns out to be her ex-husband, Ben (Hinnerk Schoenemann).
After spending some time with her dad (Christian Redl) and telling him she's landed a promising accounting job in Hanover, Yella reluctantly agrees to let Ben, whom she claims is stalking her, drive her to the airport. En route, he suddenly rails against her for dumping him when his business started to hit the skids. In a gripping sequence that quickly ramps up the emotional tension between the pair, he drives the car off a bridge and into the river, where it slowly sinks.
Just when it looks as if the main story is going to be told in flashback -- especially as we've learned little about the main characters so far -- Yella is, surprisingly, seen swimming to the shore, later joined by Ben, who collapses unconscious. She grabs her stuff, hops a train and wakes up in Hanover.
There's an off-center quality to the succeeding reels as Yella bounces from one strange event to another. First, her boss (Michael Wittenborn) turns out to have just been fired and makes a vague sexual approach to her which she abruptly rejects. She then bumps into Philipp (Devid Striesow), a roving venture capitalist she'd earlier met who asks her to accompany him to a meeting and briefs her on the secret body language he'll strategically use.
From Yella's initial encounter with him, we know that Philipp is emotionally volatile beneath his coldly calculating business front. As the two form a temporary partnership that gradually warms into something else, Yella discovers that she, too, has a considerable appetite for the ruthless cut-and-thrust of modern business.
Petzold's best pics have always had an unsettling emotional undercurrent beneath their clean, clinical direction. "Yella," with its painterly interludes in which the rural summertime scenery takes on a threatening edge, is strongly in this line. Main character remains something of an enigma, but Hoss, dressed throughout in a eye-catching red blouse that cuts like an open wound through the black-and-grey business world in which she operates, brings a laser-like focus to the role that holds the attention. --Variety
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Top Customer Reviews
Couple of comments: "Yella" completes German director Christian Petzold's so-called "ghost" trilogy (started with "The State I Am In" in 2000, and continued with "Ghosts" in 2005). While these three movies are plot-wise unrelated to each other, there are clearly certain themes coming back, none more so than a critical look at how Germans are adjusting to the "new" (i.e. post-unification) Germany. Second, without giving anything away from the plot of "Yella", just know that this movie deals quite a bit with venture capital. Yes, that seems quite a stretch from the quick introduction that I wrote up earlier, you'll just have to see how the movie gets there, and get ready for a wild ride along the way. Third, Just as Petzold relied on Julia Hummer for "The State I Am In" and "Ghosts", he now puts the movie's weight on Nina Hoss, and she comes through brilliantly. Not surprisingly, Petzold has called on her again in his subsequent movies (2008's "Jerichow" and 2012's brilliant "Barbara"). Fourth, the DVD comes with several nice extras. There is a 50 min. documentary called "Nothing Ventured" about venture capital in Germany, and from which Petzold took some inspiration when writing "Yella". Then there is an 8 page film essay about Petzold and "Yella" from a German film critic which puts all of this in a delightful context. Excellent reading material AFTER you have seen "Yella".
Bottom line: in my humble opinion, Christian Petzold is one of the very best European movie directors of this generation, and his entire "ghost" trilogy makes for compelling and riveting viewing. If you are in the mood for a top-notch foreign movie that will take you on quite a wild ride, even if it involves something as potentially boring as accounting and venture capitalism, you cannot go wrong with this. "Yella" is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
Christian Petzold uses a bold no frills approach to exhibit this thought provoking film. The narrative has a minimalistic quality which serves the film well, allowing the viewer to focus on the subtle yet compelling performance by actress Nina Hoss. Yella is an intelligently layered film and a triumph for modern day German cinema.
I will say that for the 90 or so minutes that this movie runs, I was engrossed, intrigued and very much in awe of the performances all around. Nina Hoss (Yella) speaks volumes with her silences (with her voice as well) though for all the silences in this movie, there's water boiling beneath it, an edgy tension that keeps you hooked - the silence itself creates more suspense than any cinematic music could have. In jazz they say "Silence swings". In this movie it is also the empty places that give meaning to what is there, and lest anybody get the wrong idea, there is quite a bit of dialogue and it's as interesting as any good courtroom drama. The movie moves at a surprisingly quick pace. It is by no accounts boring. It is a thriller every bit as exciting as any novel by Grisham. Only it's obtuse ending and the complete bewilderment that it left me in at the end keep me from giving it 5 stars, although that may be shortsigtedness on my part. As I write, possible explanations for what the ending may have meant come drifting past like some faint scent that you sense you may almost recognize before it is gone. This movie would make an interesting forum for discussion.
Yella: "You thought I slept with Schmitt-Ott to get that job."
Philipp: "That doesn't matter to me."
Yella: "That's not an answer."
Philipp: "You're right."
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