If one wants to call Christian Petzold the most important German filmmaker of the last decade, it’s because his films operate on multiple levels whose complexities lie just beneath a deceptively simple surface.
On a basic level, his recent films, like Yella, Jerichow, and Dreileben: Beats Being Dead, work as entertaining dramas centered on themes of sex, greed, and loyalty. The major characters are all driven by the desire for a better life, and they give each film a restless, seeking energy. But they find themselves caught between different worlds. In Yella, a woman from economically depressed eastern Germany seeks a promising career in western venture capital, but the past catches up with her in the form of her estranged, down-on-his-luck husband. In Jerichow, an unemployed ex-soldier finds work with a Turkish businessman, only to fall for his German wife. In Beats Being Dead, an ambitious medical intern with falls in love with a working class Bosnian refugee.
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Kevin B. Lee is Editor in Chief of IndieWire’s PressPlay Video Blog, Video Essayist for Fandor Keyframe, and contributor to Roger Ebert.com. Follow him on Twitter.