To her soul’s detriment, an East German woman is educated in the ways of West German capitalism in writer-director Christian Petzold’s Yella, a spartan allegory that negates significant engagement with its story thanks to a listless twist ending that couldn’t be more transparent. To escape her stalker husband, Ben (Hinnerk Schönemann), whom she callously left after his company collapsed, Yella (Nina Hoss) gets a new job in distant Hanover. Foolishly, however, she accepts a ride to the train station from her explosive spouse, whose misery is so great that it compels him to drive his car off a bridge into the Elbe River.
After the sight of no one escaping the submerging vehicle, Yella materializes from the water and, after a brief spell lying next to an immobile Ben (which is accompanied by the drearily portentous sounds of crow cawing and wind blowing through trees), gets up and runs for her train, which is magically waiting for her arrival. Once in Hanover, she discovers that her job no longer exists, but she quickly hooks up with a shady venture capitalist named Philipp (Devid Striesow), who asks Yella, an accountant by trade, to tag along to one of his negotiations.
These tense discussions stoke her greed just as Philipp stimulates her libido, and her debasement via this embrace of ruthless big-business practices is symbolically reflected by Petzold’s piercing juxtaposition of chilly steel-and-glass boardrooms with warm, inviting rural landscapes. Hoss effectively exudes deep-seated, intense unease but little else, mainly because Yella—far less concerned with character than with bludgeoning clues to the drama’s true nature—isn’t truly a film about a woman or the moral health of modern Germany but, first and foremost, one centered around a climactic surprise, and a frail, trivializing one at that.