Hanna and Simon, a couple in their early forties, live together in Berlin. With their 20th anniversary looming, they both become restless despite being truly and deeply in love. Unbeknownst to one another, they separately become acquainted with Adam, a younger man, and fall in love with him. Clearly not your typical 1930’s romp, this reinvention of those classic films with Tykwer’s sleek direction is a playful update: an intellectual study of a modern couple looking for redefinition in a world of absolutes.
eyelights: the storytelling. the performances. its unjudgmental look at triples. its stylistic flair.
eyesores: its overly cerebral tendencies.
I’ve long been a fan of Tom Tykwer. Ever since seeing ‘Lola rennt’, he’s been on my radar. Like Danny Boyle, I think that he can make almost any film interesting, tackle any genre successfully. I mean, although I haven’t seen all his films, I’m a huge, HUGE fan of ‘Heaven‘ and ‘Perfume: The Story of a Murderer‘.
The only one that I’ve seen that didn’t work for me was ‘Der Krieger und die Kaiserin’.
‘Drei’ is another perfect example of his craft: released in 2010, the film is written by Tykwer and it takes a look at the life of a long-term couple who still love each other, despite the frequent arguments and lack of passion; they are deeply bonded and continue to have intense intellectual conversations.
One day, however, Hanna meets Adam at a conference and then, coincidentally, continues to cross paths with him elsewhere. They hit it off and she begins a secret affair with him. Meanwhile, Simon meets Adam at a local pool and they also have an affair. Adam has no clue that Hanna and Simon are a couple.
‘Drei’ is a love story about three people each in love with two people at once.
What’s interesting is that we, as the audience, are aware that these three couples are intrinsically linked – only the characters remain clueless. But they are gradually drawn together as they get more involved in each other’s lives – and we’re left on the edge as we wait for the other shoe to drop. Because it will.
‘Drei’ is an unjudgmental look at a triple and it portrays this dynamic as perfectly acceptable, contextually. It takes a model that wouldn’t work for most and shows how it could. And it’s lovely. And, although the affairs are objectionable, here it is the vehicle by which the three people are brought together.
And, thus, it is tolerable.
What could easily have turned into a drawn out 120-minute melodrama is, in Tykwer’s hands, a consistently compelling observation of the various dynamics at play. I really enjoyed how he presented the characters individually and then slowly intertwined them in an organic, flowy way. There is never any conflict.
The characters all have their own issues, of course:
Hanna is an extremely cerebral person who doesn’t know how to feel close to Simon except through debate and discussion of larger issues. Simon, meanwhile, is dealing with the passing of his mother and his own battle with cancer. And Adam fills his life with affairs now that he’s separated from his ex and his son.
They all only begin to find inner peace once they fall in love with each other – although that leads to its own complications, such as pregnancy, coping with one’s developing bisexuality, and being in love with two people at once. Ultimately, they are better together than they were when they were separate.
Tykwer didn’t just do a great job of bringing the three together, he also finds ways to bring the characters’ inner lives to the screen in ways that are compelling, like using a a series of flashing, overlapping inserts to develop Simon and Hanna’s history, or using an experimental dance routine to foreshadow the plot.
He also peppers the picture with a modicum of humour to lighten things up: Hanna has a panic attack, seeing her break-up with Simon flash before her (and our) eyes and she tries to escape Adam’s apartment by the window – and fails. And, two years into their affairs, Simon and Hanna see Adam at a gallery and try to run.
Not knowing that they’ve already met before.
He also makes it sexy. Say what you will about the various arrangements but there was something exciting about the way Tykwer set up and shot the sex scenes. In particular, I was surprised by the tension between Simon and Adam during their first sexual encounter; it was all in the Adam’s gaze and Simon’s inner focus.
Of course, Tykwer would have been lost if not for his phenomenal cast:
- Sebastian Schipper was most winsome as Simon, a genuinely congenial character who deeply loves Hanna, but feels abandoned by her in his time of need – and then loses himself in Adam, surprising himself in the process. Schipper serves up the most nuanced and fully-dimensional performance of the three – which is saying a lot.
- Sophie Rois was incredibly intense as Hanna. It made the character a challenge to appreciate because she had a permanent knife’s edge, ready to strike anytime. But Rois gave her passion and made her incisive mind as credible as it could ever be possible – you have no doubt that Hanna’s comfort zone is in being cerebral.
- Devid Striesow makes of Adam a bit of an enigma. He’s an incredibly pleasant fellow, very understanding of everyone around him and seemingly unjudgmental: live and let live. But we also get the impression that he hasn’t yet found himself and is an empty vessel. Striesow conveys to us that Adam was seeking love all along.
It’s a phenomenal trio and they play off of each other so well.
Frankly, ‘Drei’ is probably the best movie that I’ve ever seen about polyamory. I’m hardly a proponent, but I think that whatever works is fair game. I’m not into pre-ordained forms and I don’t believe that there’s one right way – needs vary from person to person and, so long as it’s healthy for all involved, it’s fine.
So I loved that the film offers an alternate form of relationship and neither criticised it nor lavished it with praise; for these people it’s simply the arrangement that works best – there’s no right and no wrong. It just is. Love is beautiful, and the form doesn’t matter one bit, whether it’s two or three. Or four.
Or even more.
‘Drei’ makes that explicitly clear.
Date of viewing: May 22, 2016