James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice is hardly new to film adaptation. It has had two famous American adaptations, as well as being the basis of Luchino Visconti’s excellent Obsessione. Even if you haven’t seen these films the story is familiar, a mysterious man with a past finds himself working for a wealthy businessman and falling for his beautiful wife. Lust and deception inevitably follow. Therefore, Christian Petzold has his work cut out for him with his adaptation Jerichow, which retells the story in contemporary Germany.
Jerichow focuses on Thomas, a mysterious ex-soldier who by chance finds himself working for the frugal Turkish snack shop mogul Ali. Conflict arises when Thomas and Ali’s wife Laura find themselves consumed by passion for one another. Though the characters are stock-standard by now; the unfaithful wife, the rich husband, the mysterious lover; Petzold reveals their personality through their small actions and through minor exposition. Ali maintains some sympathy because he rushes to carry groceries for Laura, Thomas is questionable because we don’t know why he was dishonourably discharged, and the femme fatale Laura is humanised through her back-story.
Though the story has many noir elements, Petzold’s film is far from stylistically noir, although he occasionally makes sophisticated use of light and dark. This said, I don’t know if Jerichow needs to be seen on the big screen. At times I felt like I was watching a high quality German version of Sunday Theatre, which makes sense considering Petzold graduated from TV to film. The story is so solid and familiar that it is peculiar to see it told in such an unassuming way. It is very much a Germanic retelling; calm, calculated and unostentatious.
There is absolutely no fat on this film; it is a lean and precise ninety minutes. Petzold displays an evenhandedness and consistency which is maintained across the entirety of the picture, a skill which is rare these days and is something I always want to champion. Many directors know how to craft a certain scene but few can weave a uniform whole. This being said, consistency sometimes equates to ‘unmemorable’, as we often recall outstanding scenes as opposed to the total sum of the parts. Jerichow does, however, boast an original ending which much like the rest of the film is subtle and well conceived, and memorable nonetheless.