Ali is a Turko-German who runs a chain of snack bars. Thomas has to take him on his regular run of deliveries and collections, which sometimes get rough when Ali thinks someone is trying to cheat him. Fortunately, Thomas's military martial-arts skills come in handy in a pinch. Ali has a German wife, Laura, who handles purchases from wholesalers. Celebrating Thomas's early success, Ali drunkenly and innocently presses Thomas and Laura together, wanting to see how Germans dance. This beautifully filmed scene is one of Petzold's direct homages to Cain; in Postman the husband is Greek-American, while in Jerichow Thomas tells Ali he dances like a Greek. How the hell do you know how a Greek dances, Ali asks. Answer: Zorba!
The transplant works. Petzold brings a sensitive social consciousness to the story and its setting, finding in a depleted east Germany an analogue for Cain's Depression America. Petzold sees himself and Cain as fellow critics of capitalist society, interpreting the Postman archetype as a parable of lovers unable to act purely on their passions because of their need or obsession with money. The lovers could just leave the old husband, after all, but because they need his money they have to try to kill him. The tragic irony Petzold adds to the situation is a twist that would render the lovers' conspiracy unnecessary if they hadn't already set it into motion. It makes you look back over the whole story and see how, with different emphasis, it could be told as the poignant tale of a devoted man making plans for his wife's future and putting it in the hands of a good man. But society makes such a reading, which may be how Ali sees his own story, a sad illusion.
Benno Furmann, whom I haven't seen before (some Americans saw him in Speed Racer!) is the image of a troubled, world-weary neo-noir tough guy. This performance should get him more work abroad. Nina Hoss and Hilmi Sozer also made strong impressions on me, though Furmann should be the breakout international star of this film. But the main credit belongs to Petzold. Although I'm starting to watch his career work in reverse order, Jerichow makes me eager to see his earlier films, starting immediately.
Petzold fills his picture with the petty details of small-time German life, from the pervasive immigrant presence to the low-level fast food business. Those everyday elements of a foreign culture make Jerichow even more attractive to me.
CinemaGuild, the film's DVD distributor, has uploaded a Jerichow trailer to YouTube.