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This seems to be pickpocket season. First, a revival of Bresson’s transcendental film in the MOMA retro, and now Hermine Huntgeburth’s wholly down-to-earth The Trio, whose titular characters, a group of petty thieves, live in a trailer and bounce around Germany pilfering wallets while undergoing emotional crises.
At the outset the gang consists of the testy Zobel (Goetz George) and his lover Karl (Christian Redl), both nudging past middle age, and Zobel’s tomboy daughter (Jeanette Hain). When Karl is killed in an accident, his place is taken by young Rudy (Felix Eitner), the amiable town misfit who writes dreadful poetry and keeps pet snakes. Father and daughter promptly fall in love with him; eventually, he obliges both. The movie takes its merry time getting into gear, but does fully come to life once it gets around to the libidinal circumnavigation of these three well-defined characters.
Trio is ex-cinematographer Huntgeburth’s second feature. She sets most of the activities of her marginal tricksters against a Fassbinder-ish background of new urban dreariness— tacky carnivals, sterile hotel rooms, and oppressive shopping malls. This dramatic comedy of cohabiting sexualities is an extremely sophisticated little juggling act, unencumbered by the usual pieties— we’re spared any expense of pathos or moral penalties for its gay or straight cutpurses. Barely 10 minutes after the opening credits, there’s an extraordinary in-your-face sex sequence, with Karl doing his best to arouse Zobel by getting up in drag, strutting his stuff in a form-fitting evening gown while singing along to a Temptations tune. When the men then get around to making it, we’re treated to one of the screen’s rare depictions of beefy middle-aged gays doing the old rumpy-pumpy.
The performances feel natural and lived-in. Hain is a feisty, strong-minded Lizzie. Eitner is charming as the replacement thief who becomes the bisexual cutie pie in the middle. But the trio is dominated by the veteran George; he looks startlingly like a Burt Reynolds who’s been left out in the rain for a week. George (the son of famed character actor Heinrich George, one of the pillars of Weimar and Nazi cinema) is the star of Germany’s most popular TV cop show. His bravura performance as the tough-yet-tender queen in Trio should now win him a following on this side of the Atlantic.