Venice 2010 Review: DREI; Tom Tykwer's Punchy, inventive and energetic love drama

The second week here in Venice has proved a challenge to write about. I feel as though I've been forced to turn in subtly varying reviews of the same film, with only the names and plot details changing. With the exception of rays of sunshine, like 13 Assassins and the two thoroughly enjoyable out of competition films (The Town and I'm Still Here), there has been much to appreciate, but little to get excited about, or even get very angry with. There have been well made and worthwhile films in spades, such as Venus Noire and Noi Credevamo. There have also been the pretentious likes of Promises Written in Water and La solitudine dei numeri primi, but I have been in want of a change of pace here. One competition film I had counted on to break this pattern and provide a jolt of entertainment value, was Tom Tykwer's Drei (Three). And whilst the film was indeed interesting and thoughtful, it isn't the film I was going in expecting to see. Tykwer is famed for thrillers, like Run Lola Run and The International, so I went into Drei expecting something in that mould. But maybe I should have read the press notes. They'd have told me in advance that the film is a gently comic relationship drama about three people who fall in love. The long-term relationship of Hanna (Sophie Rois) and Simon (Sebastian Schipper) is a happy one. But when Simon's mother dies of cancer, and he is diagnosed with the same (though non-terminal), the pair are forced to consider their mortality. This leads to infidelity with both parties (unbeknownst to them) falling for the same person: the handsome and intelligent Adam (Devid Striesow), a colleague of Hanna and a guy Simon meets at the gym. What follows is a wonderfully non-judgemental look at sexuality, with explicit scenes of lovemaking between all three parties. As I've said before, this festival has been characterised by unflinching depictions of (often taboo) sex acts. There was the ultra-explicit wife-swapping in Happy Few, the scenes of autoeroticism in Black Swan, and even scenes of sexualised violence in Balada triste de trompeta. Drei is similarly explicit in its depiction of male homosexuality. Lesbian acts are increasingly prevalent in cinema, seen here in Attenberg, Black Swan, La solitudine and Happy Few, and these days pass by almost without comment. Yet male homosexuality is still taboo on screen and Drei presents it tenderly and in a matter of fact fashion. Adam says to Simon, when he professes not to be homosexual after one of their encounters, that he has a "deterministic approach to biology", which is a good way to put the concept of limiting yourself to what is expected of your gender. The film goes further with the theme of bodies too, as birth, sickness and death are in the foreground throughout. But also in the way that Simon and Hanna have always suspected they are infertile - but without ever checking it out. I suppose (again like Happy Few) Drei is about not limiting yourself and finding love and happiness where you can, whilst you can. Shot in a bright, clean, hi-res digital style, familiar to those who saw Tykwer's last film, The International (also lit by regular collaborator Frank Griebe), Drei is a handsome film too. There are some really stylish split screen moments and also good use of editing and music. The actors are good too, especially Rois, although the character of Adam felt to me like too much of a perfect, aryan superman, but Striesow is perfectly fine in the role. Drei was not the exciting, thrill-ride I hoped for based on my erroneous preconceptions of the director. And it is similar to a lot of what has already been screened, in terms of themes. However, the way in which the material has been handled is punchy, inventive and energetic, with some artful, if un-showy, shots and some nice comic moments.
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A regular film and video games contributor for What Culture, Robert also writes reviews and features for The Daily Telegraph, and The Big Picture Magazine as well as his own Beames on Film blog. He also has essays and reviews in a number of upcoming books by Intellect.