Scouring the morally abstruse hinterland of mergers, acquisitions and venture capitalism, this Teutonic nightmare from gifted ‘Berlin School’ writer-director Christian Petzold is a welcome addition to the current cycle of German films (alongside ‘Downfall’, ‘Good Bye Lenin!’ and ‘The Lives of Others’) which deal confidently and directly with the country’s turbulent recent history. Yella (played with a spectral simplicity by Nina Hoss) is a business-savvy divorcee based in the sleepy East German town of Wittenberge. Looking to make a clean break with her past, she accepts a job as an accountant for a company in Hanover, but tragedy strikes when her resentful ex-husband trys to kill her by careering his Land Rover into the Elbe. Managing to claw herself away from the wreckage, she eventually reaches her destination but discovers the job she was promised doesn’t exist. A chance meeting with crotchety loner Phillip leads to some lucrative freelance investment work and the couple roam the country crushing smaller companies with their superior business smarts.
As their professional relationship soon blossoms into love, Yella and Phillip become the business equivalent to Bonnie and Clyde with a laptop in place of a Tommy gun and stacks of accounting spreadsheets in place of bullets. But the drab, overcast landscapes are awash with supernatural forces which are constantly reminding Yella of a dark secret from her past. With its sardonic use of ultra-functional mise en scène redolent of Laurent Cantet’s ‘Time Out’ juxtaposed with random blurts of Lynchian aural dissonance (the repeated use of Julie Driscoll’s ‘Road to Cairo’ is especially ghostly), Petzold’s film is an expertly crafted thriller which offers a pessimistic, though deeply rewarding, glimpse of a society being haunted by its own past.