After spending two films as a shadow in the background, criminal Frank Molesch finally comes into view in “Dreileben: One Minute of Darkness.” Closing seg of the “Dreileben” trilogy — from the youngest of the three filmmakers involved, Christoph Hochhaeusler — combines various elements of popular Teuton genre films, but the helmer’s tendency to simply and coolly observe his characters, rather than trying to fathom or explain their motives, cements the pic as an arthouse rather than mainstream item. After some further fest action, this triptych, commissioned by German TV, will have its smallscreen preem in September.
“Darkness” closes a trilogy that opened with Christian Petzold’s cold and menacing half-love story “Beats Being Dead” and continued with Dominik Graf’s talky and brainy “Don’t Follow Me Around,” about a police psychologist from out of town. Each director also had a hand in writing his part of the trilogy, and, if nothing else, “Dreileben” shows that the auteur theory can also be applied to TV productions, as the distinctive voice of each director clearly comes through despite a single setting (the fictional Thuringia town of Dreileben) and narrative incident (the escape of Molesch) shared by all three films.
The presence of Molesch (Stefan Kurt), a sex offender and killer, was more hinted at than shown in the first two films. In part three, he’s finally one of the two protags, with the other main role going to ailing, middle-aged police inspector Marcus Kreil (Eberhard Kirchberg).
First reels show how the dangerous and possibly deranged Molesch, despite being escorted by police, succeeds in escaping from the hospital room where he is taken to see his dead mother. This involves an accidental meeting with one of the protags from part one, apprentice male nurse Johannes (Jacob Matschenz), and finally explains the purpose of what seemed to be a throwaway scene in Petzold’s film.
Molesch, unsure of where to go, hides in the picturesque woods surrounding rural Dreileben, while Kreil talks to various villagers and starts to hunt for clues. The two narrative strands rely on conventions of a well-established German genre: Molesch’s hideout goes back to the Heimatfilms, which glorified wooded and rural settings away from urban centers (a reaction to the urban destruction that had occurred during WWII), while the police investigation is clearly inscribed in the Teuton tradition of the Krimi, or criminal narrative, of which “Derrick” is one of the best-known examples.
But although it’s indebted to these mainstream influences, pic is hardly a crowdpleaser. This is partly due to the fact that its two genres are often at cross-purposes: A police investigation requires order and a certain urban respect for rules — in direct contrast to the chaos of nature and a village’s tendency to seek to solve its own problems. But more important, Hochhaeusler’s approach to character, already in full view in his previous films (“The City Below,” “Low Profile,” “This Very Moment”), is one that simply observes and never explains.
This works well in a couple of scenes, including a beautifully played chance encounter between Molesch and a runaway girl (Paraschiva Dragus) in the forest. But overall, the helmer’s clinical look at these dispassionate characters, which very much includes the weary Kreil, makes it hard to identify with any of them, and also impacts the momentum needed to keep auds hooked.
Small ensemble is credible but not outstanding, and something similar can be said of the tech credits, with the exception of d.p. Reinhold Vorschneider’s particularly well-lit lensing, both indoors and out.
Title references footage from a surveillance camera that inexplicably went dark at a crucial moment involving Molesch.