Why wouldn't everyone in a Tom Tykwer movie be bisexual? In 3, a fortysomethingish couple is reinvigorated when both begin an affair with the same man; Tykwer's interested in the changeability and possibility that can keep a person and a relationship alive, a natural subject for someone whose work—from the goofy work-for-hire global finance thriller The Internationalto the still bracing study in contingency Run Lola Run—demonstrates his world-record threshold for sensory overload and omnivorous appetite for new connections, from deep bonds to trivial coincidences. For this, Tykwer's first German feature in a decade, his storytelling is practically crowd-sourced, from his stylistic impulses, treasured influences, shiny new toys, and bohemian Berlin milieu. To watch it is to be continuously elated.
Tykwer presents three opening sequences: imagining the life of a couple as two taut or slackening power lines as seen scrolling along outside a window; staging the plot of the movie as a modern-dance pas de trois on a bare white stage; and overwhelming us with split-screen scenes from a common-law marriage in lieu of exposition. Hanna (Sophie Rois, who angles her shoulders intensely) is the host of a culture talk show and also seems to sit on some sort of bioethics panel, where she thinks about fabric patterns and imagines the PowerPoint presentation is displaying Jeff Koons's “Made in Heaven” series—the mood is jumpy and distracted at first. When we first meet boyfriend Simon (Sebastian Schipper) at work—he's an art fabricator—Tykwer positions him in front of glass doors to show us how our eyes wander.
On the shimmering autumn day when Simon's mother dies, Sophie is recording a segment on a conceptual artist who's built an oil derrick in a Prenzlauerberg park, then enjoying a soccer match, late-night pilsners and flirtation (when Sophie mentions she's originally Austrian: “My grandmother always said that the Austrians made the best Nazis”), with Adam (Devid Striesow), a scientist whose area of expertise is cell transplants, and the potential for harmonious or chimerical reactions to newly implanted DNA.
Simon meets Adam too, shortly after emergency surgery to remove a cancerous testicle—it's pretty graphic!—while swimming laps at the Badeschiff, the covered (in winter) outdoor pool on the River Spree. (This movie should be sufficient to convince the six remaining Brooklynites who don't already want to move to Berlin.) Post-locker-room pick-up, Simon, like Sophie, trysts clandestinely in Adam's almost smugly underdecorated apartment, even as they happily wed after twenty years together.
Simon is eager to “break free of the determinates of gender”—the film is attuned to the fluidity not just of sexuality, but of the mind, and the rapport between two people. The jumble of tricks never intrudes on intimate moments, once the three start to open up their headspace to one another; and though Tykwer is up for anything, his tangents are too lively to feel indiscriminate, from apparitions reciting Hesse poems and I<>Wild Strawberries-esque black and white fantasies; to an outing to an avant-garde performance of Shakespeare's sonnets and Adam's weekend hobbies: chorus practice, martial arts, sailing, and time bonding with his withdrawn son over a video game whose objective is to “hurl color” all over the screen. Like so much else in Tykwer's marvelously self-aware script, it's a perfect metaphor for the film.