Petzold is most definitely one of Germany’s top up-and-coming directors. Each film he makes is more accomplished than the last. Wolfsburg is certainly a far cry from the banal and cheap looking ‘Pilots’ (Germany 1995), although it is in the same league as The State I Am In (Germany 2000) and Something To Remind Me (2001 – made for TV)), both of which rely heavily on suspense and atmosphere.
The plot of Wolfsburg is relatively simple. Phillip Wagner (Benno Fürmann), a flash salesman, knocks a boy off his bike and doesn’t stop. He keeps trying to tell people around him what he has done, but interruptions prevent him from doing so. For a while it seems that he’s in the clear, but then the boy dies and he meets his mother. At this point the story becomes more complex and the sense of palpable dread is ratcheted up with each successive scene. You can’t help yourself constantly asking yourself the crucial questions – will he tell the boy’s mother? Will she find out that he killed her son? Will his girlfriend find out what’s going on? And most importantly, what will both women do when they find out? I developed a serious case of goosebumps watching the lengths that Phillip goes to in order to soothe his guilty conscience.
Although the plot of Wolfsburg is full of twists and turns, there is a sense of steady progression to an almost inevitable end. Petzold has deliberately chosen a slow, meandering, sometimes tortuous pace in order to build tension. Many of the shots are lengthy and take in the scene at leisure, or focus almost fetishistically on a beautifully framed close-up. Some of the close-ups are so close that they are literally brimming over with sensuality. One such shot of Benno Fürmann makes you almost believe that you can look into his soul – although unfortunately, one suspects this may be due more to good camera work than his acting talent.
It is a little unfortunate that Fürmann’s acting style seems to rely so heavily on an intense overuse of his uncannily blue eyes, and in fact, the lead actor is the weak link in this feature. That weird look that he uses would scare anyone into knowing that he had killed their child, and it was difficult to really believe that Laura Reiser, played by Nina Hoss, would fall for him. Hoss, on the other hand is flawless in her role as the bereaved mother. She has stunning features and her acting is full of hidden depths. Watching her figure out, step by step, what happened to her son is a revelation.
Wolfsburg is a stylish and entertaining thriller, then – more reminiscent of French cinema than the coming of age films that seem so popular in Germany at the moment – and Petzold is definitely a name to watch.