East German director Chrisitian Petzold skillfully, but perhaps too faithfully, recycles film noir tropes in his cleanly-directed Jerichow. Using one particular noir tale as its basis (I will refrain from revealing it, lest I spoil the plot), the movie actually represents a reimagining similar to Fassbinder’s Ali: Fear Eats the Soul. That film modified the premise of Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows to make a statement about racism in then-modern Germany. Here, Petzold does the same, crafting a tale that’s centered on the reactions of a Turkish man who has learned to expect the worst from people.
Jerichow unfolds rather predictably for anyone familiar with its genre, but its visuals and thematic nuances elevate it somewhat. To be sure, this movie, which pits lily white Germans against a suspiciously drawn immigrant, creates audience identification that forces the viewer to question their prejudices. The noir genre depends upon the viewer’s willingness to be compassionate toward criminals, and the audience’s willingness to sympathize with people simply because they've grown familiar is exploited to create a potent message in the film’s denouement.
As a side note I’d like to point out that this foreign noir revisionism seems to be a trend, based on the slate of movies that I’ve at this year’s festival seen including Three Monkeys, Zift, and Revanche. I can’t help but feel, though, that Americans tend to work within genres better than directors from abroad. When an American filmmaker like Tarantino or Haynes takes a revisionist approach to a genre, the result is not a polite counterpoint to what’s come before, as is the case in Jerichow, but a full-blown shakeup to the values system embodied by the works. Not to generalize too broadly, but these foreign films bluntly smuggle subtext that seems to emerge more naturally when it's been inserted on home turf. That isn’t to say that Jerichow is bloodless, but it does lack much of the vitality that makes genre filmmaking so captivating to begin with.