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Wolfsburg.

(GERMANY)

A teamWorx Produktion fur Kino & Fernsehen production, in association with ZDF/Arte. (International sales: teamWorx, Berlin.) Produced by Bettina Reitz.

Directed, written by Christian Petzold. Camera (color), Hans Fromm; editor, Bettina Boehler; music, Stephan Will; art director, Kade Grube; costume designer, Lisy Christl; sound (Dolby), Andreas Muecke-Niesytka, Martin Ehlers; casting, Simone Baer. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Panorama), Feb. 13, 2003. Running time: 90 MIN.
Philipp Gerber      Benno Fuermann
Laura Reiser             Nina Hoss
Katja             Antje Westermann
Vera             Astrid Meyerfeldt
Scholz           Matthias Matschke
Francoise             Soraya Gomaa
Klaus            Stephan Kampwirth
Paul Reiser        Martin Mueseler
Antonia                Anna Priese


With: Florian Panzner, Andre Szymanski, Peter Kurth, Simone von Zglinicki, Margarita Broich, Sven Pippig.

A yuppie's outwardly ordered but inwardly teetering life is thrown for a loop by a moment of indecision in "Wolfsburg," another taut, slow-burning portrait of emotional discombobulation by German writer-director Christian Petzold. Precision-helmed story, nicely played by leads Benno Fuermann and Nina Hoss, doesn't quite get under the ribs in the way of Petzold's previous two movies, "The State I Am In" and "Something to Remind Me," but confirms him as a major, still relatively unappreciated talent within quality Euro cinema. Beyond rests and film weeks, some upscale theatrical play could be possible in the hands of devoted distribs.

Philipp (Fuermann) is a successful car salesman in his early 40s in Wolfsburg, northern Germany. He has all the trappings of success: a neat auto and home, a beautiful fiancee, Katja (Antic Westermann) and a fashionable amount of stress. However, Katja is beginning to doubt his commitment to her, and his boss is her brother, Klaus (Stephan Kampwirth), who reckons he's a cocky arriviste.

Taking a shortcut through the countryside one day in his car, Philipp has an argument with Katja over the phone and accidentally knocks a boy (Martin Mueseler) off his bike. He hesitates whether to get out and call for help, but simply drives on. At home, Katja also hesitates over walking out on Philipp, but decides to give their relationship one more shot. Meanwhile, the boy's devoted single mother, Laura (Hoss), stuck in a tedious warehouse job, is alerted by police her son is in a hospital in a coma. He later wakes up but, while Philipp is still trying to patch up his relationship with Katja, the kid dies.

With the center of her life now gone, Laura decides to find the person responsible for her son's death and, going on a clue from police as to the make and color of the hit-and-run car, finds the dented wing that Philipp hid in a scrapyard. However, the evidence is practically useless in tracing the owner, as Philipp usually drives his company car, which is a different make.

Philipp and Laura meet by chance when she's on the edge of despair, and a cautious relationship grows between them, with Philipp clandestinely helping her find a better job. Laura still doesn't realize she's dating her son's killer, and once again it looks as if Philipp has just about managed to hold the threads of his life together. But then a small slip sets off a fatal chain of events.

Similar to "State," though less so than in "Something," Petzold mixes light thriller elements into a largely metaphysical story that at times recalls Claude Sautet's 1970 classic "The Things of Life," especially in the way that a chance event ricochets through people's lives and exposes buried mistakes or traumas. When the film's first real moment of tenderness enters late on--in an interlude affectingly underscored by Stephan Will's music--the viewer has reached the point of almost wishing, despite everything, that the mutually beneficial relationship should succeed.

Aside from Petzold's well-worked script, much of the picture's success belongs to the performances by Fuermann and Hoss. The former, much more buttoned down than usual, manages the transition from calculating yuppie to guilt-riven convert with a minimum of resources. As the young single mom, Hoss is both charismatic and moving. Other thesps are fine, with Kampwirth notable as Philipp's simmeringly hostile boss.

Tech credits by Petzold's regular team are top-drawer, with Hans Fromm's sharp, well-composed lensing heightening the omnipresent feeling of threat.
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Author:Elley, Derek
Publication:Variety
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 3, 2003
Words:689
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