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Unexpected connections between strangers and friends, and the past and present, are the motor of “Dreileben: Don’t Follow Me Around,” one of the more nuanced efforts from prolific Teuton helmer Dominik Graf (“The Red Cockatoo”). The “Dreileben” triptych, of which this is part deux, was made by different filmmakers about different protags, though with a criminal case in the Dreileben community as a shared background. The trilogy’s notion of the casually intersecting lives of people living in close quarters becomes the proper theme of this perceptive middle film, whose tone and m.o. are entirely Graf’s own.

It would be hard to imagine the middle chapters of most trilogies as stand-alone items, but Graf’s entry could certainly function as such. The entire trilogy, which also consists of Christian Petzold’s “Beats Being Dead” and Christoph Hochhaeusler’s “One Minute of Darkness,” will be broadcast in Germany in September by the TV stations that commissioned it, and could be shown at fests on the heels of its Berlinale preem.

After the romance between a male nurse intern and a chambermaid in Petzold’s slow-moving first film, “Don’t Follow Me Around” resolutely turns its attention to talkative early middle-aged adults. Main lead is Jo (Jeanette Hain), an out-of-town police psychologist called in to help local authorities find a dangerous sex offender, Molesch (Stefan Kurt, seen in all three films), who escaped from Dreileben hospital in rural Thuringia, in former East Germany.

After Jo discovers the room she booked at a local hotel is full, she ends up staying at the home of a university friend, Vera (Susanne Wolff), who lives close by. Vera and her novelist hubby, Bruno (Misel Maticevic), live in a huge manse that used to house a communist-era cultural center, and which is still in the process of being converted.

Screenplay, written by the director with Markus Busch, initially plays like a deceptively straightforward drama that barrels forward at a brisk pace, with abundant dialogue and rapid-fire cuts. But around 30 minutes in, the two women discover they were both interested in the same guy during their university years, before they knew each other, throwing Graf’s underlying themes into sharp relief.

Pic explores how people can live their lives alongside each other without ever knowing what is happening (or has happened) to the strangers and acquaintances around them. It’s a theme relevant not only to this film, but also to the overall trilogy, whose three stories are set in more or less the same place and timeframe but all focus on different protags, the tales intersecting only occasionally — and often not very meaningfully.

Times and people evolve constantly, so the question, especially for a police psychologist, is what remains constant, understandable and predictable in an ever-changing world. Graf’s complex subject is explored not only in the fallout following the women’s mutual discovery, but also in smaller details, such as the pre-1989 building Vera and Bruno call home, or the contrast between the traditional dishes Jo eats with her police colleagues and the en vogue Italian delicacies Bruno prepares for her at home.

Pic’s interest in the colliding worlds of past and present also expresses itself in the fact that, despite being set in the here and now, it has a clear pre-1989 look — with the score, saturated colors, grainy 16mm lensing and still-life inserts and zooms lending the pic a distinct ’70s vibe (also anachronistically present in the helmer’s 1818-set “The Pledge,” also with Maticevic).

A welcome dose of humor and affable perfs ensure that the film is also enjoyable as a simple story of two women trying to reconnect with the past and each other.

Dreileben: Don’t Follow Me Around

Germany

  • Production: A Burkert Bareiss Prod., TV60 Film production, in association with ARD Degeto, WDR. Produced by Andreas Bareiss, Gloria Burkert, Sven Burgemeister. Directed by Dominik Graf. Screenplay, Markus Busch, Graf.
  • Crew: Camera (color, 16mm-to-HD), Michael Wiesweg; editor, Claudia Wolscht; music, Sven Rossenback, Florian van Volxem; production designer, Claus-Juergen Pfeiffer; costume designer, Barbara Grupp; sound, Gunnar Voight; line producer, Marion Dany. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Forum), Feb. 20, 2011. Running time: 89 MIN.
  • With: With: Jeanette Hain, Susanne Wolff, Misel Maticevic, Lisa Kreuzer, Ruediger Vogler, Frank Kessler, Stefan Kurt, Jacob Matschenz, Luna Zimic Mijovic, Anja Schiffel.
  • Music By: