tom tykwer returns to his native germany with 3 (2010), his first non-english movie in more than a decade. it’s also his first original screenplay since 2000’s the princess and the warrior. his output since then have been hit-or-miss. there’s heaven based on a kieslowski story, perfume: the story of a murderer is based on a novel, and the international by someone who wrote an episode of tv’s aeon flux.
3 is a movie about relationships in modern society, and it’s as fuzzy as that label sounds. hanna (sophie rois) and simon (sebastian schipper, also in tykwer’s winter sleepers, run lola run, and the princess and the warrior) are fortysomethings who have been in a relationship for twenty years. their relationship, according to annie hall, is a dead shark. hanna is the host of a tv talk show, which seems to have more interesting topics than the talk shows we get. simon is an art engineer, an occupation i haven’t heard of before, but thankfully simon explains it in the movie. hanna keeps running into genetic engineer adam (devid striesow from downfall) and the two eventually have an affair. meanwhile, simon, whose mother passed away and after testicular surgery, meets adam in a swimming pool and the two begin sleeping together. adam, of course, does not know that hanna and simon know each other, let alone are in a relationship (and later married).
in short, the movie is about a couple unknowingly having affairs with the same guy. instead of stretching it into a two hour movie, i expanded it into one paragraph.
and such premise has probably been done before in the direction of comedy or melodrama or both. tykwer seems intent to take it in neither directions. there are humor in the movie as when the couple run into adam at a museum opening or when hanna tries to leave adam’s apartment but they are few and far between, and they are the kind of physical/situational humor that would not be out of place on an episode of three’s company.
as the writer and director of the movie, tykwer has offered himself surprisingly few spots to shine. the view of powerlines from a train that opens the film promises some kind of kieslowski-esque statements on life and relationships, reminds one of run lola run and princess and the warrior. tykwer also get to do some visual/technical tricks a la run lola run with voiceover narrations, multiple frames, and black and white footages.
tykwer also doesn’t seem to want to make a plot-driven film, which is fine since no one would watch a kieslowski or a wong kar-wai movie for the plot. but despite its frank and graphic scenes shown here, the whole movie feels sterile and clinical. what’s missing here is an authoritative voice, a tone, an emotion, a personal point of view. the early scenes seem to be setting up for some kind of morality tale that is bigger than us. then i gave up on that and was preparing for a simple slice-of-life relationship drama. eventually though, i had to give up any sort of expectations and just wait for the movie to end.
we are in an age of incessant publicity, whether we know it or not. every picture and trailer released are disguised as “news” on movie websites and blogs. it’s becoming harder and harder to be surprised by a movie. with the above movie poster and plot summary, it’s hard to imagine that anyone can watch 3 with any kind of enjoyment. though it’s a 2010 movie (released in the u.s. in 2011), it feels more like one of those gay-is-okay 90s movies with unconventional families. as much as i love to stick it to the “sanctity of marriage” crowd, i can’t honestly praise it as a moviegoer. it’s somewhat relevant that same sex marriage is in the news, and the non-committal way the film deals with its characters does more harm than good (we never feel close to any of the characters, and more importantly, why these three characters should stay together). i guess it may be eye-opening to the so-called heartland and red states residents, but it’s unlikely that those people would watch a german film with english subititles. 3 is about twenty years too late.
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