Three -- Film Review

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VENICE -- After his English-language outings in "The International" and the dark "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer," director Tom Tykwer returns to his native Germany with an offbeat romantic comedy set in the Berlin of "Run Lola Run."

In "Three," a magnetic stranger spruces up a couple's 20-year relationship, seducing first the woman and then the man. Despite plentiful nudity, this talky urban tale is basically tasteful and intermittently funny in its (serious) proposal that modern folk need to liberate themselves from "biological determinism," aka social convention, and follow their sexual instincts. Still, it's a bit far-fetched and thesis-driven to be everyone's piece of cake.

TV anchorwoman Hanna (Sophie Rois) and Simon (Sebastian Schipper), who works in the art business, have been through the normal ups and downs during the life of a middle-class couple. Now in their 40s, they live together without kids or sex and pretty much take each other for granted.

Having quickly set the stage, Tykwer's script introduces the muscle-bound blond research scientist Adam (Devid Striesow). Hanna is outspokenly critical when he illustrates advances in stem-cell research before the Ethics Council, to which she belongs. They need to bump into each other a few more times before the inevitable happens in Adam's starkly bare, rented apartment.

As luck would have it, the evening of Hanna and Adam's first tryst, Simon is rushed into surgery for testicular cancer. A further coincidence is that Simon's mother (Angela Winkler) has just died of pancreatic cancer.

Tykwer demystifies Simon's nasty operation and, typical of the film's modern attitude, makes no ado about Hanna's unjustified absence in the hospital.

Simon's feeling of loneliness is real, however, and it comes as no huge surprise when, in a memorable scene set in a deserted swimming pool at night, he meets Adam and lets himself be seduced in the changing room. At this point, none of the couples is aware of the others, and Adam doesn't know Simon and Hanna are together. This sets up a nicely ambiguous situation waiting for a well-turned ending.

Choosing to cast supporting actors Rois ("The Architect"), Schipper ("Run Lola Run") and Striesow ("The Counterfeiters") in the three leading roles, Tykwer underlines the trio as ordinary-looking, ordinary people. But Hanna's aggressive cockiness and Simon's introverted meekness make them hard to care about.

Adam is loaded down with more extracurricular activities than a suburban schoolboy -- sailing, singing in a choir, plus a wife and child -- but still comes off like more of a plot device than a real person. Striesow's amoral, otherworldly grin relates him to the mysterious Terence Stamp character in "Teorema," which with Pasolini kicked social convention in the teeth in 1968.

"Three" also advocates the thesis that people need to free themselves from constricting social roles based on gender and conventional morals. Beyond that, the film touches on a range of modern ethical controversies, from the right to suicide -- Simon's terminally ill mother botches the attempt -- to in vitro fertilization and other frontiers of scientific research. In the end, viewers will make their own judgment of the happy ending, in any case appropriate for a film that is supposed to be a playful comedy, even if outright laughs are few.

Uli Hanisch's sets and Frank Griebe's cinematography give the film a clean, up-to-date look.
Tykwer had a hand in composing the film's well-thought-out score, along with Johnny Klimek, Reinhold Heil and Gabreil Mounsey.

Venue: Venice Film Festival (Competition)
Production: X Filme Creative Pool
Cast: Sophie Rois, Sebastian Schipper, Devid Striesow, Angela Winkler, Winnie Bowe, Annedore Kleist, Alexander Horbe, Corinna Kirchhoff
Director-screenwriter: Tom Tykwer
Executive producer: Uwe Schott
Producer: Stefan Arndt
Director of photography: Frank Griebe
Production designer: Uli Hanisch
Music: Tom Tykwer, Johnny Klimek, Reinhold Heil, Gabriel Mounsey
Costumes: Polly Matthies
Editor: Mathilde Bonnefoy
Sales Agent: Match Factory
No rating, 119 minutes
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