The less audiences know about Something To Remind Me the better. It helps that its various titles have little to do with what unfolds — at various stages characters listen to Burt Bacharach records, including ‘Always Something There To Remind Me’, which presumably explains the (slightly awkward) English-language title, while on German TV it was shown as Toter Mann, which translates roughly as the scarcely more-helpful Corpse Man [i.e. “dead man’s float – a swimming technique. -Ed.].

Director Christian PetzoldToter Mann went down so well that production company ZDF decided to try their luck on the film-festival circuit, starting with Rotterdam, Berlin and Gothenburg. The film easily warrants such wide exposure — in fact, it’s rather more satisfying than many German made-for-cinema films which obtain international release, especially their woeful Oscar entry Das Experiment. Admittedly, the look of the film is very TV-flat but writer-director Petzold’s script is so ingenious that, if anything, perhaps it’s better that there are no flashy visuals to distract us from the rather complex narrative, or to offer unwelcome clues along the way. It will be a major surprise – and a badly missed opportunity – if this script does not get picked up for a Hollywood remake.

At first, it seems like a tentative romantic drama, as fortyish parole-officer Thomas (Andre Hennicke) drifts into an a relationship with Leyla (Nina Hoss), a younger, Hitchcock-style “cool blonde” he meets at a suburban swimming-pool. But Something To Remind Mejust as Thomas seems to be breaking down Leyla’s reserve, she repels his advances and promptly vanishes from his life, her job and the city. Hurt and baffled, Thomas investigates further and soon discovers he’s been the victim of a meticulously-staged con-operation carried out by the scheming Leyla. The focus then starts to shift between Thomas, Leyla, and the man who appears to be her next target: an introverted, painfully shy ex-convict named Blum (Sven Pipping)

At this stage, regular cinemagoers may suspect Something To Remind Me is about to develop further along Hitchcock lines — into Vertigo or Marnie territory. Then it seems were heading into some distaff version of The Vanishing or In The Company of Men or even, perhaps, a European variation on Audition. Petzold leads us up these paths quite deliberately and it would be unfair to reveal our actual destination. But what appear to be disaparate elements of the plot suddenly come together in the final reel, slotting into place with such smoothness that even the most ardent mystery fan will be kicking themselves that they didn’t piece together the puzzle sooner.

In retrospect, it all seems quite blindingly obvious, but Petzold is careful never to reveal any more of the overall design than he needs to at any particular stage. What seemed to be a slow, meandering, unfocussed character-based piece of casual intersections and divergences is, we realise, an tightly-constructed mechanism in which no word or gesture is wasted.

But Something To Remind Me isn’t just a twisty “trick picture” whose appeal is exhausted once the red herrings are revealed. The characterisations and performances add another level of resonance, ensuring that the pulpier aspects of the plotting never overwhelm the psychological aspects of the suspense — Something To Remind Me joins Harry, Hes Here to Help among the best recent Patricia Highsmith “adaptations” not actually based on any specific Highsmith text. This is thanks in no small part to the efforts of Pippig as the tragic Blum – a performance that builds from almost nothing to an unexpectedly epic level of shattering, heroic despair.

Neil Young
19th August, 2002
(seen 15th, Filmhouse Edinburgh – Edinburgh Film Festival)

SOMETHING TO REMIND ME : 8/10 : Toter Mann : Germany 2001 (originally made for TV) : Christian Petzold : 90 mins


For all the reviews from the 2002 Edinburgh Film Festival click here.

click here for a review of Christian Petzolds previous film, The State I Am In (Die Innere Sicherheit, 2000)