Dreileben trilogy (2011)

A different kind of trilogy, three filmmakers born in different decades each makes his own feature film set in the same town at the same time, rotating around a central event: a convicted murderer escapes from a hospital and kills again.

Quotes in italics below are from Dennis Lim’s great article in Cinema Scope, which is what got me watching the trilogy in the first place.

Beats Being Dead (Christian Petzold)

Clean-looking picture. Follows young hospital flunky Johannes. Broken up with Sara, a hospital director’s daughter, he picks up a girl he sees getting dumped by a band of motorcycle thugs and takes her home. Johannes proves to be a bit of a stalker, and Ana sees him following her everywhere, which is why I keep thinking this movie was the chapter entitled Don’t Follow Me Around, but no, that’s the next one. Hard to tell Johannes’s intentions – he seems entranced with Ana, but at the end I wonder if he was using her to get back with Sara. She’s not a good match for him – makes lots of bad decisions then cries about them. Either way, he does end up with Sara after Ana attacks her at a company party, and they go off to Berlin together. Johannes never realizes that the door he clumsily left open at the hospital last week allowed the killer to get free, nor that the killer eventually stalks Ana (just like Johannes has been doing) and kills her as he’s driving out of town.

Petzold inscribes cold, hard truths of class and money into almost every scene, fusing erotic tensions with socioeconomic ones.

Don’t Follow Me Around (Dominik Graf)

A deceptive story with a grainier look and a less driven feel than the first movie. Psychiatrist Jo (Jeanette Hain of that Kate Winslet movie The Reader) is dispatched to Dreileben to assist the police with the manhunt. Jo arrives, stays with old friend Vera and her husband Bruno, who seem to be having relationship trouble. The escaped-killer plot is mostly dropped as she sets her investigative skills towards her friend, discovering that they both dated the same man shortly before they met. Meanwhile, Jo’s work in town is cryptic until halfway through the movie it’s revealed that she never came to work on the killer case, but to investigate corruption, leading to the arrest of six local officers. Once this is wrapped up, Jo does work on the other case, enlisting an artist to bait the killer. Meanwhile, Vera leaves home suddenly, paying a visit to the mutual unseen ex, returning having learned more secrets as the movie reveals that he’s the father of Jo’s daughter. Despite (or because of) its sidetracks, it’s the most richly engrossing of the three movies.

Talky and witty, packed with revealing tangents and glancing micro-observations. Shot by Michael Wiesweg in soft-toned Super 16 – a striking contrast to the crisp, controlled visuals of the other two entries – Graf’s film makes a virtue of skittishness. The distractable camera snoops, wanders, lingers on odd details, and the narrative likewise keeps shifting its attention.

One Minute of Darkness (Christoph Hochhausler)

This one suffers from having nothing much to say. It follows the killer, Molesch (Stefan Kurt, who got to play Albert Speer in a Hitler movie), whose history, escape, various sightings, then capture have already been addressed in the other two movies. Here we see the escape in greater details – Molesch wandering through a back door (left open by Johannes) while in hospital to see his just-deceased mother. Then it’s on to narrow escapes (movie briefly becomes The Fugitive during a bridge scene), police incompetence, and Molesch’s unlikely (but quite typically movie-likely) truce with a runaway girl. And just as inspector Marcus (I love that the music has ringing tones, in tune with his tinnitis) figures out that Molesch was innocent of his original crime, Molesch of course kills Ana from the first movie (after stopping to burn down his dead mum’s house).

[the titular piece of missing surveillance footage] speaks to the impossibility of certainty in the absence of observable evidence, the danger of imposing stories onto what we cannot know for sure. This conundrum is, of course, intimately linked to the de-dramatized cinema of the Berlin School: the fear of narrative as, to quote Hochhausler, something that “contaminates the picture,” a lie, and what’s more, a lie that could become the truth.

Petzold has made at least two films I’ve read about: Barbara and Jerichow. Graf has done a lot of television, including something called Doktor Knock, which is what I’m going to name my metal band. Hochhausler made a few films I’ve never heard of.

Graf was born in 1952, Petzold in 1960, Hochhausler in 1972, and each has a distinct relationship to the now decade-old “new German cinema” that has come to be imprecisely known as the Berlin School. Graf, a respected senior figure and a stalwart of German television, predates the Berlin School’s emergence, and has criticized what he sees as the reticence and passivity of many of the films. Petzold is often identified as one of the movement’s de facto founders, part of the pioneering wave that studied at the dffb in the ’80s and ’90s. Hochhausler belongs (with Benjamin Heisenberg and Ulrich Kohler) to the Revolver-aligned second generation, whose careers have progressed and diverged in ways that reflect the constant sense of flux, born of habitual self-examination, that defines this loose group.


Dreileben is not an epic story. A term like that is generally saved for adventures that are years long or involve arduous journeying. Instead of offering something like that, these three German filmmakers have given us a very dense, abstruse, enclosed saga; full of knotty liaisons and unsolved conflicts … Coincidences are played with often (some big, some small, some even unnoticeable) and certain elements/traits, such as deafness, carry over to different characters and situations. Rather than composing a grand narrative, the directors went above and beyond to provide a wealth of substance and meaning.