Yella Fichte (Nina Hoss) is trying to escape her old life, leaving behind her husband and family and home to start afresh. One thing hanging onto her, keeping her from making a fairly clean break, is spouse Ben (Hinnerk Schönemann) who she has become estranged from after his business went under and left him penniless, but he keeps following her and behaving in a threatening manner for which his frequent apologies do little to assuage Yella's concerns. She is still on good terms with her father and he wishes her luck as she sets off for the station - but Ben is waiting for her, and she ill-advisedly takes his offer of a lift...
Yella was writer and director Christian Petzold's third in a loose trilogy, not that it was a sequel as it operated on its own terms in a self-contained plot. Well, maybe not all its own terms as it was actually an uncredited remake of a cult horror film from the sixties, and in comparison Yella came off distinctly second best, opting for the unease of mundanity rather than going all out for surreal chills. This meant that the twist at the end came as no surprise to a lot of people, but not simply those who had seen that previous movie, as once you noticed the more off-kilter elements of the narrative, it was easy enough to second guess it to the end.
This offered a second hand experience that obscured the film's original aspects, which constituted a well-hidden character study of one woman who unwittingly trails disaster behind her. The first disaster we see is when Ben, driving her to the station but not really, decides that if he cannot have his wife then nobody else will, either romantically or professionally, and he sends the car hurtling off the side of a bridge to the waters below. The vehicle sinks to the bottom, but they both manage to swim free and end up collapsed on the riverbank. Yella rouses herself first and grabs the bags that have washed up on shore, then makes good her escape.
It you haven't twigged that much of this is lifted wholesale from Carnival of Souls, Petzold doesn't do much to hide it with Ben frequently showing up to alarm Yella in Herk Harvey-style sequences which would be more thrilling if it were not for the adherence to understatement. More bad news troubles the woman when the job she was hoping to secure turns out to be nonexistent, so she returns to her hotel to lick her wounds and by chance meets financial whiz Philipp (Devid Striesow) who invites her along to one of his business meetings as his stooge, little knowing of her accountancy aptitude for getting to the heart of such matters.
If this is starting to sound dry, then imagine how it plays, with great swathes of the characters running through the assets of a company which may be trying to put one over on the interests which freelancer Philipp is representing, complete with all the jargon you could want. If you were an accountant that is, as everyone else will be wondering where this apparent decision to put the audience into a trance of light boredom is heading, and hoping it won't be as blatantly obvious as they suspect. Which it is, of course, and that glacial surface is belying an equally glacial underneath which invites you to read anything from the state of the nation to the state of the heroine's personality into it. Actually Yella is reminiscent of Gus Van Sant's Psycho remake, in that it follows the main points of a superior work without doing enough with it to justify its efforts.