Jerichow (2008)

“You can’t love if you don’t have money.”

There are some situations you would never chose to become involved with, but desperation leads you there.

jerichowThe German film Jerichow begins with Thomas (Benno Furmann) attending his mother’s funeral. He has a past, an unknown history, but now he is back at the humble little house owned by his recently deceased mother. He’s just left her funeral when he’s visited by two men from his past. Exactly what happened and what Thomas’s relationship is to these men isn’t clear, but it is obvious that there’s some sort of criminal activity involved, and that Thomas has stolen some money.

The visit leaves Thomas without the little purloined nest egg he’d intended to use to repair his mother’s dilapidated house. With no job, and no money, this dishonorably discharged soldier turns to the state for help getting a job. The next thing you know, Thomas is part of a cucumber harvesting crew, performing extremely difficult work–no doubt for a pittance.

Thomas’s luck seems to be improving when he meets Ali (Hilmi Sozer), the chubby, middle aged Turk who owns a chain of snack bars sprinkled throughout the region. But that’s not the only thing Ali owns–he also has a gorgeous country home, and a blonde German wife, Laura (Nina Hoss). After Thomas does Ali a favour, Ali offers Thomas a job as his driver, and Thomas accepts.

With the three main characters in place, the film then creates an effective love triangle. Laura is obviously sick and tired of her husband, and Ali is busy spying on Laura and testing her loyalties. Surely no one in their right minds would see Laura as anything other than ‘off limits,’ but Thomas doesn’t seem to care, and soon, Laura and Thomas are groping each other every chance they get.

It’s impossible to watch Jerichow (Jerichow is the name of Thomas’s home town, by the way) without being aware that the plot is a reworking of James Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice, made into a film first in 1946 and remade in 1981.

One of the biggest differences between the 1946 American film version and this German retelling of the tale is that the character of Ali is far more interesting–even if he is more unpleasant. As Thomas drives Ali from snack bar to snack bar, Ali anticipates the actions of some of his managers. He expects to be cheated, and he’s not disappointed when people do exactly what he expects. Similarly, he expects Laura to sneak around and cheat on him too, and of course this makes the way he dangles Laura in front of Thomas rather intriguing.

Thomas and Laura don’t struggle with the morality of the situation. To them, it’s a black and white situation which is determined by cold cash. Jerichow also tackles the immigrant perspective, and here even though Ali is a wealthy man, he can’t wait to retire back in Turkey–a place he still considers home even though he only returns periodically. There’s a sense that this is the new Germany–with hunky Thomas disenfranchised after a bout with the army and Laura, bought and paid for by the only man interested enough to afford her price tag.

All three of the main characters are well cast: Benno Furman with his economy of movement and speech, Nina Hoss as the burned out wife who chokes on her subservient role, and Ali, a man who’s far deeper than he appears to be. From director Christian Petzold.

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