Drei – Tom Tykwer (2011)

Before this, I had kind of given up on Tom Tykwer as a director. A former favorite of mine, the guy who directed Run, Lola, Run, The Princess and the Warrior and the sublime Heaven, had, it seemed gone Hollywood, making the thoroughly mediocre efforts Perfume and The International. Then he’d signed up to do the adaptation of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas with the dreaded Wachowskis. What happened to the psycho-brilliant craftsman and artist I’d grown to love?

Nothing, really. It’s on me for forcing the man into a box and expecting him not to change. After all, who would say no to Dustin Hoffman or Naomi Watts?

But it was still with some trepidation that I went into Drei, Tykwer’s first German film in over a decade. It’s the kind of subtle, naughty black comedy that seems sincere at first, before you suddenly go, “oh!” and slap yourself on the forehead.

The film is about Hanna (Sophie Rois) and Simon (Sebastian Schipper), a modern Berlin couple in their mid-30s. They are well off, but never married, have no kids, and have no real plans to do either. They are the kind of couple, Simon argues, where both parties would fight against having custody of the child should they find themselves getting divorced. As a couple, they seem to be at a crossroads brought on by age and complacency, and both throw themselves into their work to skirt around the subject.

Simon’s life changes within the space of an afternoon when he is told he hast testicular cancer and must go under the knife right away. Simon tries, but is unable to get hold of Hanna on her cell to tell her because she has met another man, Adam (Devid Striesow), and gone off with him.

During his rehabilitation, Simon will meet the same man and do the same.

It’s a somewhat preposterous conceit, that two people could fall in love with the same man without any of them realizing, but Tykwer forces the suspension of disbelief down on the audience through force, filling the screen with every flex of modern fairytale muscle he can summon. In another director’s hands this would probably be a straight screwball comedy, but with Tykwer at the helm the humor is very wry and only glanced upon in passing. You have to find the humor on your own because the film isn’t going to help you find it.

Even with the bit of hard work it asks of the audience, the film does work in stretches. Sophie Rois is great as the manic Hanna and Sebastian Schipper actually does appear to morph right there on screen. But the film too often teeters over the edge with Tykwer just playing with his characters instead of storytelling, like a cat that’s got a mouse by its tail. Hanna, Simon and Adam are tortured for our delight and from time to time it’s a devilishly enjoyable sight, but there isn’t enough behind it to enjoy without reservation. There is enough here to like for Tywker loyalists, but it amounts to little more than a dose of filmic methadone to keep us going. It’s all right, but it’s not exactly the hit that we wanted.

Not one to let a in-joke get away, the number three continually pops up throughout the film. Yes, there are three of them in the relationship, but also there are three children fathered by Adam. Hanna and Adam start their affair during their third meeting. Officially, it’s also the third visit to the pool boat where Adam and Simon become a thing. And, to be blunt, after Simon’s surgery, there are three testicles left in the three-way relationship.