The bliss of a pair of young lovers is violently interrupted by the reappearance of an old flame; a policewoman’s investigation is complicated by the discovery of a love triangle from her past; an escaped convict and a detective on sick leave each return to the scene of an old crime in search of a missing link. A trilogy of films, each of which plays upon figures of three, Dreileben forms a series of subtle repetitions and triangulations of characters and events, unholy trinities and ménages à trois. Even in the film’s title—the name of a fictional town that serves as the films’ setting, translating as “three lives” in English—there’s an almost superstitious numerological conceit, suggesting a strange dialectical calculus at work, a multiplication of narratives and perspectives.
The fictional location of these films supposedly lies in Germany’s grüne herz, its “green heart,” the dark, mythic woodlands of the state of Thuringia in the country’s center. As the setting for a project which grew out of a friendly but spirited debate on the state of contemporary German cinema by three of the country’s prominent filmmakers—Christian Petzold, Dominik Graf, and Christoph Hochhäusler—this town could serve as the imaginary crossroads of a national cinema, a battleground for these filmmakers’ interwoven concerns about cinema versus television, realism versus genre, image versus narrative. But the aesthetic questions addressed by this triptych aren’t just the provincial concerns of a national cinema; rather the contradictions of cinematic form and function suggest that the “three lives” indicated by the film’s title have immense import for international cinema generally. Read Leo Goldsmith’s review of Dreileben.