Quick: when’s the last time you saw an American movie about murder for money?
Disappointing that in these mean times it’s taken a German filmmaker to remake The Postman Always Rings Twice, that model of sordid pragmatism. But, unlike the filmmakers existing in that dream factory isolated between a desert and an ocean, new European directors have lately been conscious of the movement of goods and labor. Christian Petzold’s boomtime Yella, a conditional-tense venture-capital drama, got at the unreality of the new money (as well as at the placelessness of hotel rooms and the sterility of rental cars), and his Jerichow is as transactional as the world of the Dardennes brothers (or Dreiser). A dying man’s last request: Remember to send two thousand a month to my brother.
James M. Cain’s scenario proves adaptable, archetypal even: Petzold joins the lust-triangle blueprint to its new surroundings with natural parallels illuminating the place of Turks (and other immigrant groups) in the old East Germany. His mother dead and inheritance wiped-out, dishonorably discharged soldier Thomas (Benno Fürmann) starts from scratch working with Turkey-born Ali (Hilmi Sözer), whose lucrative but grinding toehold in his new country is the roadside fast-food stands greasing the wheels and stomachs of commerce, and whose trophy is his wife Laura (Nina Hoss, with her worried mouth). Though Petzold’s feel for the pacing and of a thriller seems halting, his reengineered ending — which condenses the last hour of Tay Garnett’s 1946 adaptation into sixty seconds or less — is a beartrap of moral consequence, guilt after greed.