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November 7, 2011

Walking in to Drei, I had little information about it besides the fact that it was written, directed, and scored by Tom Tykwer, who had previously written, directed and scored Lola rennt and Der Krieger und die Kaiserin. But really, what else do you need to sell you on giving it a shot? While Tykwer has gone and made a few Hollywood movies like Heaven and The International in the interim, he’s still in full command of his particular German art-movie sensibility that leads to films that are as engaging and enjoyable as they are experimental.

So here’s the setup: Simon (Sebastian Schipper) and Hanna (Sophie Rois) are a couple in their mid-forties. Though they’ve been together twenty years, they’ve never gotten around to tying the knot. But despite all the jokes it’s not marriage itself that causes bed death, but rather familiarity and complacency; they’re just as much victims as any wedded-blissless couple.

But their life picks up when each of them meets and has an affair with another man. And not just any other man, but the same other man: Adam (Devid Striesow). Hanna is a journalist serving on a bioethics board reviewing Adam’s institute’s stem cell research, and a series of happenstance meetings lead to infatuation. Simon, on the other hand, meets Adam in the locker room of a pool where they both swim.

This is already a meaty subject, and a straightforward treatment could already make for a substantial film, but Tykwer’s genius is in the execution. He indulges in one stylistic flourish after another: an interpretive dance here, an expressionistic fantasy there. Yet none of these touches feels pretentious or “arty”; they throw us off our guard, inviting us in to relax, loosen up, and have some fun. And somehow even those plot twists which could be truly dark manage to come off light. Indeed, this is an incredibly funny movie in its own way.

Of course, it would be impossible to do justice to one of Tykwer’s European films without mentioning the fantastic score, composed by Tykwer himself along with Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil, his usual collaborators in the band Pale 3. It’s every bit as textured and intricate as their phenomenal work on the soundtrack of Lola rennt.

What could be a bittersweet tale of loss and enlightenment — the almost certain result of an American movie about a ménage à trois — instead explores how each of the three participants benefits from their unknowing arrangement. Monogamy, in this case, doesn’t seem to be the best of all possible worlds. Though it may satisfy some, or even most people, Tykwer reminds us that other tributaries may be worth exploring if the first one doesn’t seem to be panning out.

Each of the actors plays their own role in supporting this triangle. Rois is perfect as a whip-smart woman still in her prime, experiencing the reignition of her sexual identity, while Schipper brings out the nervous excitation of a man exploring a new frontier in his own. And Striesow is utterly natural as a libertine who finds himself falling in love for what may be the first time.

So we must ask ourselves, as Tykwer surely has, whether he can remain in a relationship with both Hollywood films and European cinema. And of course the answer comes, why not both?

Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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