The gifted German filmmaker Christian Petzold (Wolfsburg, The State I Am In) wrote and directed this tightly controlled metaphysical horror movie, which begins with an upwardly mobile corporate accountant and her if-I-can’t-have-you-nobody-can ex-husband careening off a bridge and plunging into the icy waters of the Elbe. Miraculously, Yella (played by the excellent Petzold regular Nina Hoss) manages to extract herself from the wreckage and skip town, just in time to start her new job in Hanover, where—in between embezzlement schemes and hostile takeovers—she finds herself stalked by the specter of her possibly dead ex. In Hollywood, these would doubtless be the makings of a cookie-cutter woman-in-distress shocker—a supernatural Sleeping With the Enemy. But Petzold, whose avowed inspiration was Herk Harvey’s Lawrence, Kansas–lensed cult classic Carnival of Souls, is less interested in ectoplasmic apparitions than in the equally disembodied eeriness of poker-faced power brokering and glass-and-steel boardrooms. (Hardly accidental is Yella’s journey from the former East Germany to the new West.) Like Laurent Cantet’s Time Out and Nicolas Klotz’s recent Heartbeat Detector, it’s a corporate ghost story in which the undead are scarcely (and scarily) indistinguishable from the living.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 13, 2008