Yella (Nina Hoss) lives with her father (Christian Redl) after a messy divorce from Ben (Hinnerk Schönemann) who is not quite done with her and keeps on following her, trying to talk about the company they built together and that has been falling apart for a while. But now Yella has found a way out: she has a job offer in another city. But when she arrives there, the job is gone and instead she meets Philipp (Devid Striesow), a business man/con artist and gets drawn into his affairs.
Yella is a weird film and I didn’t really get into it. While it has an interesting atmosphere and good performances, the story itself left me mostly bewildered and not in a good way.
Petzold obviously knows what he’s doing, creating an eerie atmosphere with a few strokes and excellent settings and an even better cast. Technically the film really is everything it’s supposed to be. Considering the twist that it’s basically Yella’s dying brain conjuring up one last fantasy after she and Ben get in a car accident, the structure of the film is also spot-on.
The setting in the financial business sector provides the perfect (and perfectly eerie) backdrop to Yella’s story. Her freefalling is mirrored by the business transactions that seem to happen with invisible goods in the name of invisible people. Nothing is ever really clear.
But I do have issues with the film. For one, I called the big twist way too early – it was so obvious, I wonder whether it was actually meant as a twist, but since the film was introduced as one that screws with your head, I guess that it was their intention to surprize and to confuse.
Most of all I was extremely frustrated by Yella as a character. She is completely at the mercy of all the men around her – all the time. Not only the possessive and violent Ben, but she also has to rely on the kindness of her father. Even though Philipp needs her (or so he says), it is always him who controls their relationship and who sets boundaries and rules. And when Yella tries to independently blackmail somebody, she again has to rely on his cooperation in the matter, since she doesn’t actually have that much leverage. It is frustrating to say the least, especially since it’s her fantasy we’re seeing. [Of course, this could be a point the film is trying to make – that after an abusive relationship Yella can’t even imagine another form, but for that interpretation to work, the film would have had to dealt more openly with everything.]
And that kept me from really going with the film and enjoying it.