"Jerichow," a love triangle by German director Christian Petzold, screened at the Venice Film Festival, the first German entry competing for the Golden Lion since 2004. It faces strong competition from the US and Italy.
In 'Jerichow,' a former soldier starts an affair with a friend's wife
A tragic story of love, money and death that is set in the poor, north-eastern part of Germany, "Jerichow" shines with brilliant acting, especially by Nina Hoss, who has worked with Petzold before.
How will the Venice jury, led by German filmmaker Wim Wenders, receive this intimate study of calculation, passion and longing?
The film opens as Thomas (Benno Fuermann), an angular, laconic ex-soldier who has been dishonorably discharged, arrives in the depressed Prignitz region.
Hopeless love affair
He strikes up a friendship with Ali (Hilmi Soezer), a Turkish immigrant who has achieved prosperity as the owner of 45 snack bars.
Thomas falls in love with Ali's wife, Laura (Nina Hoss). Petzold captures the ensuing entanglements in both quiet takes and loud scenes as the protagonists perform their impossible tightrope walk amid a land of hopelessness.
"You can't love each other when you've got no money," says Laura disconsolately of her dead-end affair with Thomas.
She is financially dependent on mistrustful, terminally ill Ali, who remarks: "I live in a country that doesn't want me, with a woman that I bought."
As in his earlier films "Yella" and "The State I Am In" ("Die Innere Sicherheit") Petzold, 47, explores the frontier between life and death.
Looming larger in "Jerichow," however, is unfulfilled -- and unfulfillable -- longing. In Petzold's view, when men like Ali build themselves a "home," it often becomes a "maximum security unit" for women.
Home advantage for Italian films
While none of the four Italian films in competition have been shown yet, Sandro Bondi, Italy's culture minister, countered criticism of the high number by the Hamburg-based news magazine Der Spiegel.
"Home field advantage," Bondi quipped.
He defended the festival's artistic director, Marco Mueller, saying that Mueller had been "absolutely independent" in choosing this year's line-up.
The designer's life has been made into a documentary
For years, Bondi noted, the major film nation Italy had taken flak for being conspicuous by its absence at the Lido. After the country's successes at the latest festival in Cannes, he said, it was only natural that Italy be well represented in Venice.
"The world loves Italy and its cinema," he declared.
And its fashion. "Valentino: The Last Emperor," a documentary by Vanity Fair editor Matt Tyrnauer on the Italian designer, created a stir Thursday. It puts a spotlight on the glamour and skill of the haute couture czar.
An exclusive fashion party dedicated to Valentino was planned in the evening at Venice's Peggy Guggenheim Foundation -- with eagerly awaited film stars Gwyneth Paltrow and Uma Thurman.