Opened (U.S.) May 15th 2009
Directed by: Christian Petzold
Written by: Christian Petzold
Thomas (Benno Furmann), a former solider in Afghanistan, is down on his luck; he has no money, no job, and no prospects. On a walk home from the grocery store, he overhears the crash of a passing SUV. This is how Thomas meets Ali (Hilmi Sozer), an ill-tempered drunkard, and the owner of several fast-food-type outlets. After Ali's licence is suspended for drunk driving, he employs Thomas to take him to his various establishments. This also acquaints Thomas with Ali's beautiful wife Laura (Nina Hoss). Here things begin to get complicated.
Foreign film is generally a very different beast than American film, and that's certainly the case with Jerichow. An American film with this exact same set up would have tight pacing, several major plot reversals, and very likely a character who was bat-shit crazy. It would be heavily suspenseful, with edge of your seat type tension. A thriller. And While Jerichow is billed as a thriller, it is also a foreign film, which means the approach, and the interests are very different.
Jerichow is a surprisingly slow-paced movie that seems to have no problem taking a pedestrian look at this potentially explosive situation. It seems in many ways oblivious to the fact that it's supposed to entertain audiences. There are of course surprising moments, brutal moments, and a tenuous sense that something is going to happen, but rarely does it feel as though you're watching a movie in the American sense. This is fine until you begin to get tired and bleary-eyed, which is likely to happen to anyone save the diehard foreign film aficionados more accustomed to the pacing.
The film is generally fairly conventional, save for a major turn of events only ten minutes until the end. This aspect of the film, aside of setting the film apart from what you might expect, makes Ali a much more complex, fascinating character. In fact, it makes you question his motives for the entire length of the film. In this respect, the film succeeds. The characters in Jerichow are all fairly well crafted, and move on their own volition. In the case of Thomas and Laura, this might be why the film seems so mundane.
Despite its better moments, Jerichow is too conventional for too much of the film, and-- seemingly-- too indifferent to its subject matter. Also, the ending, while powerful, feels lazy and doesn't come as a surprise. Hardly bad, hardly exceptional, its the kind of movie that prevents me from renting foreign films blindly.