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    Christian Petzold’s Jerichow – James M. Cain Remake

    By Ron Holloway | November 8, 2008

    One of the highlights of the 2008 Hof Film Festival, Christian Petzold’s Jerichow arrived fresh from the Venice film festival. The title refers to an East German town located not far from Wittenberge on the Elbe River, where Petzold’s previous film Yella (2007) had been shot. From the standpoint of the director’s auteur credentials, Jerichow is a reprise of Petzold’s Wolfsburg (2003), the title of that film referring to a West German city. Both films starred Nina Höss and Benno Fürmann in similar tales of unrequited love against a fatal background of death and betrayal. Petzold confirms that Jerichow was inspired by Luchino Visconti’s Ossessione (Obsession) (Italy, 1943), which in turn leaned heavily on James M. Cain’s 120-page novel The Postman Always Rings Twice (published in 1934). In fact, save for a few adjustments (a dull-witted Turkish-German husband instead of Cain’s Greek American), Jerichow never drifts very far from the original crime tale.

    It’s worth noting that from The Postman Always Rings Twice have sprung a half dozen screen adaptations, in addition to an opera (1982) by Stephen Paulus and a stage version (2005) by Andrew Rattenbury. Perhaps because of the notoriety sparked by the original publication (it was banned in Boston), no Hollywood studio at first dared to produce a screen version of the original. That honor fell instead to Pierre Chenel, whose unauthorized Le dernier tournant (The Last Bend in the Road) (France, 1939) was photographed by Claude Renoir, followed in 1943 by Luchino Visconti’s again unauthorized Ossessione, the director’s first film and the first Italian neorealist film. Reportedly inspired by a French translation of the novel handed to him by Jean Renoir, Obsession, upon release, was quickly banned by Fascist and Church authorities and wasn’t officially released in Italy until 1976, thanks to a rescued duplicate negative kept by Visconti himself.

    Following the war, with America still wrestling with the remnants of the Depression, Tay Garnett hit cult paydirt with his film noir classic, The Postman Always Rings Twice (USA, 1946), starring John Garfield and Lana Turner in the roles of the illicit lovers. Then, in 1981, when Bob Rafelson directed a sizzling remake, starring Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange, further spinoffs of the original became common – among these, Vasilis Douvlis’s I epistrofi (The Homecoming) (Greece, 2007) and Christian Petzold’s Jerichow (Germany, 2008). What makes Petzold’s version special is its tight narrative style. We are never quite sure what the protagonists are thinking – particularly Benno Fürmann as Thomas, a dishonorably discharged Afghanistan veteran of few words – although we do know the direction that will be taken. The same holds true for Nina Höss as Laura, given the same name as her role in Petzold’s Wolfsberg. The movie puzzle is to measure the depth of intersecting motivation – never easy to determine in a Petzold film. But that’s what makes Jerichow a pleasure to watch as it unfolds with a couple new twists. Christian Petzold, recognized as a leading auteur in the current German New Wave, owes some of his fame to the Hof Film Festival. Nearly all of his films have been screened here.

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