The Little Girl Who Fell from a Tree

Lisa Ahrends/

Lisa Ahrends/

Karen Leutner ….. Julia Jager

Jenny Ruebens ….. Floriane Daniel

Ben Ruebens ….. Dominique Horwitz

Leo Ruebens ….. Rainer Strecker

Neighbor ….. Dorothea Moritz

The latest slick thriller from Germany, “The Little Girl Who Fell from a Tree” is a “Fatal Attraction”–style yarn with a smooth polish but an overly murky narrative that undercuts its commercial potential. Toss in “The Bad Seed” and “Vertigo” and one can readily see filmmaker Michael Bartlett’s visual and story influences. But clever twists and visual panache aren’t quite enough to lift the effort above the level of quality homage, and that will translate into spotty theatrical results in upscale European territories and a smattering of video and cable sales. Still, this is a strong calling-card film.

Lisa (Julia Jager) moves into a Berlin apartment adjacent to newlyweds Jenny (Floriane Daniel) and Ben Ruebens (Dominique Horwitz). There’s an underlying and ill-defined tension in the young couple’s relationship. But all the audience knows is that Jenny is loquacious and needy and Lisa has a dark secret in her past. A series of flashbacks reveal an abusive father who sexually assaulted Lisa when she was a girl.

Bartlett’s script falters in its pop-psychology attempt to connect the past and the evolving present-day situation of sexual manipulation. Lisa seduces and humiliates Ben, then blackmails and browbeats him into continuing the relationship. One has to make a giant leap to accept her need to control and prey upon the couple.

In addition to its appealingly sleek, cold veneer, “The Little Girl Who Fell From a Tree” holds one’s attention thanks to the strong performances of the central trio. Jager has an easy, vixen sexuality, while Daniel and Horwitz lend warmth to characters that have become overly familiar types in sexual thrillers of the past decade.

But the effort comes up short. The promise of a spider’s web ensnaring everyone, including the audience, turns out to be more a dazzling piece of design than an intricate maze with dramatic impact.

The Little Girl Who Fell from a Tree

(PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLER -- GERMAN)

Production: A Tobis Films release of a Rialto Film presentation of a Vicious Affairs production. Produced by Susan Nielebock. Executive producer, Sabina Belcher. Directed, written by Michael Bartlett.

Crew: Camera (color), Ekkehart Pollack; editors, Sabine Brose, Etienne Boussac; music, Jens Holzkamp; production designers, Sarah Horton, Marinus Haas, Rene Berndt; costume designer, Anne Hoffmann; sound (Dolby SR), Manfred Banach; assistant director, Rene Roll; casting, Angela Marquis. Reviewed at AFI Film Festival (New Directions), Oct. 7, 1998. Running time: 109 MIN.

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