05/14/2008 12:00 AM |

Set in a German nowheresville of conference centers and anonymous greenery, Yella has been lauded as a stringent portrait of disaffecting “dog-eat-dog” business, like some late-capitalist Western counterpart to Still Life. But Christian Petzold’s stripped-down, lucid-dreamt drama is more slippery than that. The title character, a young accountant (Nina Hoss), goes West for a job only to find her sanguine would-be boss fired and lurking in the parking lot. Back at her hotel, a roving venture capitalist (David Striesow) recruits her as number-cruncher wingman for negotiation showdowns, where she quietly excels. Tainting her freedom, and complicating the depopulated film, is her estranged husband (Hinnerk Schönemann): in the enigmatic opening, he coaxes her into a ride to the train station — and plunges them both into a river. They apparently survive, but Yella’s independent journey hovers in a liminal state of reality, now and again ruptured by stalker cameos from the hubby, regretted outbursts by her new boss, and her own aural fugues. The porousness keeps the ‘Owl Creek Bridge’ intimations ambiguous, overlaying the neat gloss on false consciousness with Yella’s coming into her own and a strain of unexpected tenderness. Yella is shot on film, but the look flirts with glassy-digital; echoing that translucence, the sound design aims to be too-present, somehow deeper than ambient. Despite some superficial overlap, like the formal attention and Yella’s red suit, the film has little to do with the 2003 French office film She’s One of Us; Petzold’s film is more controlled and embodies a conflicted state of mind and being. Hoss and Striesow keep their bearings admirably as watchful characters in a buffered world.

Opens May 16 at Cinema Village