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MOVIE REVIEW

Echoes of the old life haunt her new world

September 19, 2008|Kenneth Turan | Times Movie Critic

"Yella" starts out familiar, but in many ways it is not. The winner of four Lolas, the German Academy Awards, including for best picture, this unusual film has all the appearance of simply being a well-done drama, but there is considerably more on writer-director Christian Petzold's mind.

This is the third time Petzold, a top German director, has worked with actress Nina Hoss, who does excellent work as the woman who shares her name with the film. Looking beautiful but troubled from the first frame through the end, Yella has a lot to deal with, more than even she realizes.

"Yella" is one of the many new German films that contrast life today in the former East Germany with the way things are done in the west. We first meet Yella on a train returning, she hopes for the last time, to her small town in the east. She has left a few days before, looking for work in the west, and she's returning to tell her father her quest was successful.

Her father, however, is not the only man Yella will encounter. All but stalking her at the train station is her estranged husband, Ben (Hinnerk Schonemann), both love-struck and scary as well as distraught at the prospect of being left behind. Before Yella gets on that train back to the west, something shocking happens, and the effects reverberate through the rest of the film.

In the west, Yella meets Philipp (Devid Striesow), a shrewd businessman who finds her accounting skills and her willingness to learn useful. In a short period of time, she gets an education in the tactics and psychology of hardball negotiation, in how things are done on the western side.

For one of the themes of Petzold's somber parable is the endemic corruption and ruthlessness of business dealings in the prosperous half of Germany, where success appears to be based as much on hustle and guile as anything else. Yella adapts surprisingly well to this world, so much so that we worry about her ethical survival.

There are, as it turns out, other things to worry about, for "Yella," inspired by the 1962 U.S. exploitation film "Carnival of Souls," has a supernatural element that gets stronger and stronger as the film goes on. Yella the woman hears strange noises and has unusual experiences, while "Yella" the movie makes the point that reality is not always what it seems.

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kenneth.turan@latimes.com

"Yella." No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes. Exclusively at Laemmle's Music Hall Theatre, 9036 Wilshire Blvd, Beverly Hills, (310) 274- 6869.

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