I can't find any news article that says Tom Tykwer, the German director known for his celestial, kinetic action films, had a breakdown or went through traumatic events in his life. But I'm assuming he had to have been, because his new film, Three is extremely chatty, dense and very grown-up, unlike anything he has done prior.
His first German film since Princess and the Warrior, Three concerns a middle aged, modern Berlin Couple, Hanna (Sophie Rois) and Simon (Sebastian Schipper) falling in love with the same man, Adam (Devid Striesow). Riddled with post-modern themes, the film is in part, reminiscent of Don DeLillo's book, White Noise - it starts with Hanna and Simon obsessing over death. Their media soaked, technology savvy, slightly ironical professions reflect this as well (Hanna, a TV talk show host on philosophy, Simon, an art engineer who fabricates large installations for artists).
But however superfluous their jobs might sound, Tykwer's treatment of these characters is nothing but patronizing. And the characters are fully realized by Rois and Schipper. Self absorbed and childless, they are an emblem of modern, attractive, thirty/forty-something professional couples. Rois especially shines in the role of petite, wide eyed, klutzy Hanna, who expresses herself physically as well as verbally in many of the film's comic situations.
Hanna and Simon's midlife anxieties (health scares, death of family members, stagnant sex life) come tumbling down when they encounter, on separate occasions, an attractive biologist Adam, who works at a stem cell research lab. Drawn to this wise, cherubic man, Hanna and Simon start having affairs with him unbeknownst to each other. From then on, the film becomes an old Hollywood style, even Shakespearian, comedy of errors with a revelatory climax.
Adam is obviously a metaphoric figure for cure, a new way of looking at things in this overwhelming, complex world where inevitable advancement in technology is rewriting the way we live, think and love.
Three is a handsome looking film that features effective split screen, rhythmic editing and playfully pays homage to the early years of cinema with b&w sequences. It showcases Tykwer's regular DP Frank Griebe and editor Mathilde Bonnefoy's excellent skills to convey the hectic, technologically imbued world.
Written by Tykwer himself, the film is an ambitious and highly personal piece. Does it work though? As the film approaches death, birth and sexuality in a very earnest fashion, it comes across as quite corny. It's much ado about nothing that is quite enjoyable. Mostly because of its likable actors. As I hear his new project being a big budget fantasy - Cloud Atlas with the Wachowskis - I'd like to think he snapped out of his midlife crisis quite unscathed.
Dustin Chang is a freelance writer. His musings and opinions are available at www. dustinchang.com
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