German director Tom Tykwer’s eclectic ballad on love, illusion, coincidence and destiny could be the pinnacle of his work, which has often touched upon the same themes, as in, for example, “Run Lola Run” and “Heaven,” but now Tykwer aims to do something much more grandiose and less subtle in style and emotion.
This is “Drei,” the story of three 40-something upper-class hipster Berliners who must endure a crisis of maturity and existentialism by way of their relationships with each other.
Hanna (Sophie Rois) is a successful TV presenter who hosts a show that debates all kinds of intellectual and ethical issues. We aren’t told the exact focus of the show, but we are given to understand that it’s probably too clever for us to understand. Hanna is extremely successful; she’s also serves on a public ethics board. But life can get confusing. She’s been together with Simon (Sebastian Schipper) for the past 20 years; they are not married nor do they have any children. They do love each other, but it’s getting a bit boring. Turns out that Simon, who has made a career of supporting the not-very-lucrative projects of up-and-coming Berlin artists, feels the same as Hanna: Yes, his life seems perfect in this wonderful city, beautifully shot by Tykwer, but he begins to question himself after the death of his mother and his own diagnosis with and surgery for prostate cancer.
In comes the lighthearted and ambiguous Adam (Devid Striesow), a geneticist who conducts stem-cell research. Hanna meets him while working with the ethics board and is immediately attracted to his nonchalance and good looks. They embark on an affair, through which Hanna begins to feel much more positive about life and once again notices Simon for the man he is. Unbeknownst to her, Simon has also met Adam at a swimming pool, and Simon and Adam are also having an affair. Adam has no idea that Simon and Hanna are involved with each other; he’s just taking it easy and enjoying them both. Meanwhile, in the course of conducting their extra-curricular activities, Simon and Hanna grow much more devoted to each other and decide to get married after 20 years.
Life, with its funny coincidences, can have a wicked sense of humor, and of course the predicament of these three characters will be exposed. But beware: This film has an ending unlike any other -- an ending which is much more encompassing and compassionate than you might expect from this unconventional love triangle.
A scenario featuring betrayal and lies among spouses is not likely to inspire empathy for the characters from an audience. However, Tykwer has so lovingly and meticulously written his characters and their motivations that he creates in the viewer a non-judgmental curiosity and willingness to understand the characters’ actions and emotions. The existential crisis of three upper-middle class urbanites, preposterously articulate and intellectual, might not be the kind of material that will touch your deepest feelings, since it has the potential to seem a tad self-indulgent. Yet the acting and the script are realized with great genuineness, especially the performance of Sophie Rois -- she is not a beautiful woman in the classical sense, but her charm and prowess on the screen seduce the audience into appreciating her presence and idiosyncratic humor.
“Drei” takes as its focal point the three leading characters, but contemporary Berlin itself plays a very important role in the narrative. Tykwer shows the city bathed with beautiful light, and clearly appreciates its eclectic architecture, old and new. The characters are part of the maze of the city, as the story takes them through its beautiful streets and unique buildings, to forgotten neighborhoods in the outskirts. Tykwer makes it clear that his story is about individuals who are living within and against the backdrop of the urban environment, a bourgeoisie whose relationships with each other are grounded in the metropolis they inhabit.
The only drawback to “Drei” is its length: If Tykwer were to go into the editing room and remove 20 minutes of the film, it would still be intact as a story, and might be much more enjoyable. Nevertheless, “Drei” carries the authentic mark of its director, who has always managed to bring forth films that capture very different and sometimes unappreciated angles of the human condition.
Cast: Sophie Rois, Sebastian Schipper, Devid Striesow,