Movies – 3 (Drei) (Germany, 2010)

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Sophie Rois and Sebastian Schipper in “3.”

I used to post foreign film reviews on the now defunct Examiner.com. I’ll start to make some of those reviews available here to preserve them online.

For such a contrived set-up, I have to admit that Tom Tykver’s 3 (Drei) (Germany, 2010) works admirably well as a thoughtful and intelligent look at fidelity, mutual need, and the ethics and emotions that lead people to more open arrangements. The basic plot outline involves Simon and Hanna, a longtime couple in their forties who never felt the need to marry, or have children. They’re content, and genuinely love each other, but each enters circumstances that cause them to move, together, past their present situation.

For Hanna (Sophie Rois), it’s just flat-out falling in love with Adam (Devid Striesow), a genetic researcher. Hanna’s occupation is hybridized (or, perhaps, just murky and badly explained); she’s a journalist for a very intellectual cultural TV discussion program, but she also seems to serve on a medical ethics panel, and obviously has an extensive medical research background. She meets Adam at a medical ethics panel briefing, and soon afterwards runs into him at a theater performance. A few days later, she’s filming a report on an outdoor installation performance artist when she happens across Adam once again, at an adjacent soccer field. The third meeting is just too fateful – she hangs at the soccer game, joins his friends to watch a pro match that night, and, after some initial awkwardness, acquiesces to their obvious mutual attraction.

Simon’s (Sebastian Schipper) life concerns a series of present turmoils; his mother (Angela Winkler), diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, attempts to take her own life, but only succeeds at turning herself nonresponsive, but still alive. Tending to her until her passing, Simon is informed that he himself has early-detected testicular cancer. And the day (and night) an offending testicle is surgically removed is the day (and night) he can’t get Hanna on the phone to tell her because she’s having her soccer day (and night) with Adam. She eventually joins him the following day, and there’s no question that she’ll love and support him through this, but where she might have been that night is never spoken of.

Weeks later, healed from the surgery and treatments, Simon works out to build himself back up from the hospital stay. Swimming at a local gym and natatorium, he meets Adam, who is curious about his surgery, and they glide into a physical intimacy that’s uncharacteristic of, but welcome to, Simon, who has a whole new perspective on his life and the kinds of emotional support he has or hasn’t felt, or has or hasn’t needed, up until now.

Simon and Hanna have no idea that they’re each having an affair with the same person. But Adam is a very quiet, likeable guy, and seems to be completely guileless, and a great match, with each of them.

How the rest of the movie develops (what I’ve described here is a little less than half), I won’t reveal, but Tykwer settles into a more linear storytelling style than at the start, where he employs overlying patchworks of split-screens, and more abrupt edits between episodes, to emulate the pace of their (inadvertently) overlapping lives. Tywker doesn’t follow all three of them throughout – it’s basically a two-person movie for the most part, with Adam consistently insinuating himself into those two threads. If there are issues here, I’d name two: Tywker works a little too hard to make Adam all-appealing to all-people – he’s a genetic researcher, he’s a swimmer, he’s into martial arts, he’s into soccer, he’s a sailor, he’s into drinkin’ with the boys, he sings in a modern-music choir…some aspects of Adam are just too cumulatively good to be true. And Tywker works a little too hard, as well, on telling us over and over that this is a Modern Story, Happening Right This Minute. Berlin is a very modern city by itself – he doesn’t need to surround every event within the most modern architecture, the most modern interiors, the most modern performances, the most modern art openings, the most modern dance or music concerts – it’s modern, Tom, we get it – we’re not going to mistake anyone for Miriam Hopkins or Frederic March, or, for that matter, Bob or Carol or Ted or Alice; please stop fussing and trust your very good writing.

If it’s at all possible, try to carve out some time for this appealing and agreeable drama; Tom Tywker’s film is smart and articulate, well-acted and uniquely presented. It doesn’t have to avoid clichés or mawkishness – it’s too busy with authentic passions and complexities to even bother working any of that in. Admirable.

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