Dreileben 1: Beats Being Dead

Dreileben 1: Beats Being Dead


Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

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.

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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. It's not as straight forward a police investigation as in Nuri Bilge Ceylan's elegiac Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011).

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?

LA turns out to be a fantasy that aims to impress, Johannes imagines himself coming back, dressed in white. Unlike Audrey Hepburn in Billy Wilder's Sabrina (1954), it is difficult to root for him.

Reviewed on: 25 Oct 2011
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A young couple's passionate relationship plays out against the backdrop of a manhunt.
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Director: Christian Petzold

Writer: Christian Petzold

Starring: Jacob Matschenz, Luna Mijovic, Vijessna Ferkic

Year: 2011

Runtime: 88 minutes

Country: Germany

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