A successful civil engineer becomes obsessed with a slightly older woman suffering from that most hackneyed of plot devices, multiple-personality syndrome, in overripe Teutonic meller "I Am the Other Woman." Pic's daft storyline and unconvincing psychology will limit sales to German-speaking territories.

A successful civil engineer becomes obsessed with a slightly older woman suffering from that most hackneyed of plot devices, multiple-personality syndrome, in overripe Teutonic meller “I Am the Other Woman.” Pic reps second disappointment in a row after the underwhelming “Rosenstrasse” (2003) for helmer Margarethe von Trotta, a one-time leading light of the New German Cinema alongside R.W. Fassbinder, to whom this pic pays pallid homage to, as well as to Hitchcock’s “Vertigo.” Pic’s daft storyline and unconvincing psychology will limit sales to German-speaking territories and cablers in search of sexy but ultimately tame fare for late-night slots.

Bridge designer Robert Fabry (August Diehl, playing yet another smug yuppie as he did in Michael Glawogger’s recent “Slumming”) checks into his swank Frankfurt hotel the night before a big meeting with a client. He picks up a slatternly prostitute in a platinum wig (Katja Reimann, the lead in “Rosenstrasse”), and the two retire to his room where she plies her trade (only the seduction, not the sex, is seen). In the morning, she’s gone.

At the client’s office, Robert meets contract lawyer Carolin Winter (also Riemann), the same woman he had sex with the night before although she denies it. She’s also not wearing the wig and her manner is completely sober and businesslike. Robert asks her out on a date that night, and she accepts. Unfortunately, he rather spoils the romantic evening by trying to rape her, seemingly thinking that her coyness is playacting.

Script, by Pea Froelich and the late Peter Maerthesheimer (he wrote several scripts for Fassbinder, including “Veronika Voss” and “Lola”), soon degenerates into a string of implausibilities and nutty scenes, starting with Robert dumping his attractive g.f. Britta (Bernadette Herwagen) for Carolin, and then tracking the latter down on a mountaintop where she greets him warmly, apparently having completely forgotten his attempt at date rape.

Soon she’s bringing him home to meet her family, particularly her wheelchair-bound patriarchal father Karl (Armin Mueller-Stahl, who appeared “Veronika Voss” and “Lola”) with whom Carolin is obsessed. Other members of the household include her lush of a mother (Karin Dor), and the clan’s two creepy retainers, stiletto-heeled secretary Miss Schaefer (Barbara Auer) and steward Bruno (Dieter Laser), Mrs. Winter’s longtime lover who never says anything because he once bit his own tongue off in order to better keep secrets.

A tacky flashback to a primal scene years before supposedly explains how Carolin hatched her tart alter ego Carlotta to cope with a trauma. However, no explanation is given as to why she traipses off to Morocco suddenly, and once there goes around in the cast-off blue jilbab Debra Winger wore in “The Sheltering Sky.”

Having made her reputation back in the ’70s with her own subtle brand of politically-engaged, femme-sensitive naturalism, von Trotta seems to be trying here to break out into a new direction. Unfortunately, she is ill-suited to this kind of Gothic material, although lenser Axel Block gamely ups the visual ante with a supersaturated palette. Maybe Fassbinder himself could have made something of this script, although it seems on the face of it more suited to Ken Russell.

All the same, Reimann just about pulls off the vampy-prude dualism needed for the part, while rest of the more than competent ensemble keep to the same key.

Pic should by no means be confused with another title by von Trotta, “The Other Woman,” which she made in 2004 for German TV.

I Am the Other Woman

Germany

Production

A Herbert G. Kloiber presentation of a Clasart Film production, with the support of FFF Filmfernsehfonds Bayern, FFA. (International sales: StudioCanal, Paris.) Produced by Markus Zimmer. Executive producer, Manfred Thurau. Directed by Margarethe von Trotta. Screenplay, Peter Maerthesheimer, Pea Froelich, based on a novel by Maerthesheimer.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Axel Block; editor, Corina Dietz; music, Chris Heyne; production designer, Uwe Max Szielasko; costume designer, Claudia Bobsin; sound (Dolby Digital), Michael Busch; sound designer, Stefan Busch. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Masters), Sept. 14, 2006. Running time: 104 MIN.

With

Katja Reimann, August Diehl, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Barbara Auer, Dieter Laser, Karin Dor.

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