Written and directed by Christian Petzold, absorbing German import Yella unfolds against an evocative backdrop of abandoned cityscapes. After escaping her volatile ex-husband Ben (Hinnerk Schönemann, below left), with whom she owned a start-up business, Yella Fichte (Nina Hoss, below) leaves her father and small hometown in former East Germany for a new life in the West as an accountant. One job quickly falls through, but Yella hooks on with Philipp (The Counterfeiters‘ Devid Striesow), a freelance business executive who comes to rely on Yella’s balance sheet expertise. Ben, however, will not leave his ex-wife alone.
Yella is one of those movies that the less one knows about it going in, the more likely they are to fall under its sway. The film’s press notes name-check Herk Harvey’s 1962 cult classic Carnival of Souls as inspiration, which is easy to see. And yet this color-encoded, carefully constructed allegorical tone poem of lonesomeness and strangled aspiration also strongly echoes, on a certain level, David Lynch‘s Mulholland Drive. Unlike that film, Yella doesn’t work as an adrenalized cognitive booster shot, heightening one’s awareness of the sinister and absurd; Petzold is interested in telling a much more compact, straightforward story. Spare and streamlined in its production design, and for the most part stripped of any sense of accompanying human warmth, Petzold’s tale hones in on upward mobility, and the lies that we tell and sell ourselves to make just-around-the-bend self-betterment seem plausible. Underscoring that notion, and holding the film together with a wonderful performance, is Hoss, whose placid demeanor serves as a plaintive stand-in for a universal underclass. For more information, click here. (Cinema Guild, unrated, 89 minutes)