It draws heavy inspiration from the 1962 indie horror ‘Carnival of Souls‘, but the storytelling and execution are unmistakably Petzold’s as he tackles failed dreams and false hopes in this slow-burning psychological biz thriller.
Cast: Nina Hoss, Devid Striesow, Hinnerk Schonemann
Plot: Escaping her volatile ex-husband, Yella flees her hometown in former East Germany for a new life in the West. She finds a promising job with a business executive, with whom a romance soon blossoms. Just as Yella begins to realize her dreams, buried truths threaten to destroy her newfound happiness.
Awards: Won Silver Bear – Best Actress (Berlinale)
International Sales: The Match Factory
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
My third Christian Petzold film after The State I Am In (2000) and Jerichow (2008), Yella is the best I’ve seen from the German auteur so far. It draws heavy inspiration from the 1962 indie horror, Carnival of Souls, which I happened to watch a couple of months earlier, so the connections and references are still fresh.
However, Yella is not a horror film; instead, it operates in the mould of a psychological thriller where reality and imagination collide. Hallucinations are aplenty as the titular character (Nina Hoss in a Berlinale Best Actress performance) is haunted by the spectral when she becomes stalked by her temperamental husband whom she left.
Arthouse cinephiles who are unfamiliar with Carnival of Souls will find Yella to be a masterclass in using film language (particularly sound design) and misdirection to create a disorienting yet still entirely plausible narrative with twists and turns.
“He’s stalking me.”
Hoss’ nuanced, understated performance allows us a way into her psyche—how she deals and reacts to her natural and human environment is one of the film’s delights. And so are her eyes, which could stare into your soul and make you feel as vulnerable as her.
Yella’s also a biz thriller of sorts as several scenes centre on the ethics of accounting and manipulative meetings with clients, suggesting that Petzold is as interested in the ills of corporate politics as he is in life’s transient qualities, that human folly will eventually expose failed dreams and false hopes, which are the film’s central themes.