(Christian Petzold, Germany, 2008)
A taut, well-paced, politically-infused melodrama. Petzold is a new name to me, and as always, it's great to discover an excellent filmmaker, especially one currently working at the height of his powers, if reports are to be believed (several reviews mark this as his best film yet, which I will have to verify for myself; the rest of his available work was promptly added to my Netflix queue.) Jerichow is a film that leaves one marveling over how the director made the whole thing fly, and without any apparent exertion. Petzold knows just when to add suspense, just when to reveal character, and just when to cut - I don't think I could better catalog the requisite skill set for a director of this kind of film.
What's most impressive here is the careful balance of melodrama and critical distance. The story is pure noir - down-on-his- luck man meets trophy wife, they fall into the sack and promptly begin scheming. The added element of racial resentment is just right - it doesn't overwhelm the story, and ends up adding to the story's poignance, rather than detracting from it. Such a story could be fraught with cliche, but Petzold has an acute sense of how close to keep his characters emotions, and how much to reveal about their lives. I'm not sure I've seen such a potent combination of psychological realism and arty detachment, and I'm genuinely surprised that it worked as well as it did.