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Originally published Friday, July 11, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Movie review

"Yella": A thriller that isn't, with a climax that doesn't

Some Germans finally read "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," or rented "Carnival of Souls" from Schnellflix or whatever their equivalent...

Movie review 1.5 stars

"Yella," with Nina Hoss, Devid Striesow, Hinnerk Schönemann. Directed by Christian Petzold, from a screenplay by Petzold and Simone Baer. 85 minutes. Not rated. In German with English subtitles. Grand Illusion.

Some Germans finally read "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," or rented "Carnival of Souls" from Schnellflix or whatever their equivalent is for Netflix. The result: an import non-thriller so enigmatic and subtle that it's inert.

Yella (Nina Hoss) is a pretty, vaguely troubled woman who doesn't talk much. The bankrupt husband she left (Hinnerk Schönemann) is stalking her, and when she reluctantly accepts a ride to the train station, he drives them over a bridge into a river. She makes it out of the water to find that the accounting job she just took in a distant city has fallen through. Then Yella hooks up with a shady businessman named Philipp (Devid Striesow), who asks her to sit in on high-stakes negotiations — where she discovers a knack for bluffing amid all the tension.

Director Christian Petzold may be making some point about greed and capitalism, but the characters are so hollow, his direction is so clinical and the pacing is so turgid, that the point remains as mysterious as his country's affinity for David Hasselhoff. But Petzold has pulled off the nifty trick of crafting a story that's both subtle and really obvious at once. For most of the seemingly aimless movie, as Yella floats from one situation to the next, I wondered what the story was even supposed to be about. If it was meant to be existential, it did prompt me to ask, "Why am I here?"

Until the nearly haunting, heavily foreshadowed climax. Nein! Unlike "The Sixth Sense," which makes you rethink all the film's previous events, this just creates déjà vu for previous — and better — films.

Mark Rahner, Seattle Times staff reporter

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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