Following a host of well-received releases, from 'Good Bye, Lenin!' to 'The Lives of Others', Christian Petzold's 'Yella' is the latest in a cycle of German films to address the country's turbulent recent history, depicting the internal struggle faced by many in trying to move forward whilst being haunted by the past.
Yella (Hoss) is an ambitious divorcee based in the sleepy Eastern town of Wittenberge. Plagued by her violent ex-husband, Ben (Schönemann), who is stalking her, she is determined to make a clean break from her past.
Returning from a successful interview in the western city of Hanover, she informs her father that she has taken a job as an accountant and says her goodbyes to her past life. Her possessive ex, however, has other things on his mind and ensures Yella is left with one final violent parting shot.
Nonetheless, determination takes her to the West where her smalltown life is swapped for an unforgiving, cold and mundane existence. She arrives for work only to find that her boss has been dismissed, leaving her jobless and alone.
Returning to her isolated hotel she is haunted by recurring sounds and visions from her past, though finds some trace of a future in Philipp (Striesow), an executive with a private equity company. On a whim she is hired to assist him and, as their working relationship blossoms into love, Yella begins to realise her dreams of a new life. However sounds and visions from her past continue to menace this new existence.
Petzold's film pegs itself as a mysterious atmospheric thriller though in truth any hint of suspense is killed by slow pacing and an uneventful plot. Furthermore, the final 'twist', on which the plot revolves, is all too predictable and poorly executed. Scenes are clumsily sequenced together, while the improbable business relationship, between Yella and Philipp, is beyond belief.
However, although dull entertainment, 'Yella' is underlaced with an interesting version of how young German filmmakers are beginning to convey the relationship between East and West in a unified Germany. Indeed, Petzold depicts a Germany where the divide between East and West still exists.
Philipp represents the West - cold, callous and prepared to drain others of their wealth in a bid to further his own ambitions. Yella, superbly played by a glacial Hoss, is the naïve East German who is quietly seduced by money and the high-flying talk of the business world. Such shades to their characters are subtly suggested throughout.
Petzold also juxtaposes the drab, overcast and ultimately soul-destroying environment of capitalism with a rural world which is being quietly raped. In the movie Philipp is seen to crush smaller country businesses with his superior skills, while throughout there are insinuations that he may have been at fault for putting Yella's ex-husband out of business - an event which preceded the downfall of her marriage and drove her from her hometown.
When Yella does eventually morph into a slick businesswoman, who is prepared to say anything to seal a deal, Petzold demonstrates such a conversion from eastern to western values by indicating that she has sold her soul.
All these elements make for intriguing viewing though 'Yella' works less as a film and more as a series of scenes, which don't always connect. Ultimately, Petzold's film adds up to much less than the sum of its parts. Slow and uneventful, 'Yella' will manage to only intermittently sustain your interest.