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Thread: 3 (Tom Tykwer 2011)

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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    3 (Tom Tykwer 2011)

    Tom Tykwer: 3
    Review by Chris Knipp


    Two men and a woman

    In Tom Tykwer's 3 (or Drei) a forty-something artistic Berlin couple, a man and a woman, together for twenty years but childless and never married, both get involved with the same man, without knowing it. Mostly 3 is enjoyable, which is a bit of a coup since it has death, attempted suicide, and several kinds of cancer in it. These three people tend to take things with a smile. You may too if you can deal with some excess baggage in the storytelling.

    You have to give Tykwer credit for taking on a different challenge each time out. His debut Run Lola Run (and critically his biggest success) was a high-speed tour de force: 20 minutes to find 100,000 marks and save a boyfriend's life. Perfume was a high concept adaptation of the bestseller about a period serial killer with an extraordinary sense of smell. The International -- well, that was just a euro-trash thriller, but pretty relevant, being about bank fraud. In his next film the director is adapting David Mitchell's brilliant time-traveling novel, Cloud Atlas, which is surely a huge challenge to make sense of away from the printed page.

    This time out, with 3, the challenge is that the central coincidence involved is so far-fetched. Taken as a simple ménage-à-trois this love triangle might most logically be staged as farce. Tykwer chooses to take it straight, and hide the potential silliness of that by adding a lot of complications. Too many, really: the multiple split-screens and soundtracks at the outset are an unnecessary way of pointing out that there are different and overlapping lives going to be involved here. Short scenes from some imaginary black and white classic film about death don't add much. The desirable central character, Adam (Devid Striesow), is an in-vitro fertilization specialist who has a great relationship with his ex-wife and teenage son, has a boat, plays soccer, does martial arts, sings in an avant-garde choir, swims regularly, and rides a motorcycle -- isn't that a bit more than enough? Isn't the in-vitro thing just a too obvious gesture toward sex and potency, since the woman, Hanna (Sophie Rois) gets pregnant with twins, while her longtime boyfriend Simon (Sebastian Schipper) gets testicular cancer and loses a ball -- though that only seems to make him up for more kinds of sex? Maybe also having Simon's mother get pancreatic cancer, attempt a numerically elaborate suicide, and have a fancy funeral is also a bit more than we need to have to get out of the way?

    But there are saving graces, as I promised. These three people are appealing and sexy nonetheless, and it's nice that they aren't movie-star beautiful or handsome, though both men have good physiques and smooth tan chests, and Hanna, like Franka Potente of Lola, is spunky. Maybe the movie isn't facing up to how hard any of this would be to carry off in real life, but the compensation is that the three take everything with natural good humor, which saves us from ever sliding into soap melodrama and makes watching their scenes seem like a pleasant adventure, if you can suspend some disbelief.

    This is Tykwer's first film in his native German in a while, and he seems comfortable with his sophisticated cheaters. There's a kind of cozy European-ness going on, and when Hanna scoots over from Berlin to London for a pregnancy exam it reenforced my memory of that comfortably glossy old gay triangle from the Seventies, John Schlesinger's Sunday Bloody Sunday. The fancy funeral for Simon's mother may echo the beautiful bar mitzvah in Sunday. But things are a lot different here. Schlesinger's and Penelope Gilliatt's screenplay chose to face up to the melancholy of two different sexes competing for one attractive young bisexual man's affections. Tykwer goes for a conventional and overly feel-good resolution, though again, having all three people middle aged is a nice touch. 3's main interest is in how this invisible triangle livens up things for the couple and how Simon discovers another side of his sexuality. There's no avoiding the fact, though, that the final scene of this movie is a cop-out that undercuts the air of sophistication. Schlesinger's Seventies London was apparently a lot more worldly-wise than Tykwer's 21st-century Berlin.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-18-2011 at 08:46 PM.


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