In 2006, filmmakers Christian Petzold, Dominik Graf and Christoph Hochhausler sent each other a series of frank emails analysing German cinema’s “completely atrophied discourse,” missives that were subsequently published in film journal Revolver. As well as proving intellectually provocative, their tête-à-tête(-à-tête) planted the seeds of an ambitious collaboration: a trio of films jointly conceived but independently produced. The directors proposed “three stories, three films, from three authors who share a place, a crime, and a time” – a set of separate, yet discursive works, in which the filmmakers "wave from film to film, each as if on a ship moving away from the others."
Dreileben’s core story involves an escaped criminal and an ensuing investigation, but each prepares its ingredients differently. Petzold’s Beats Being Dead is an unorthodox romance; Graf’s Don’t Follow Me Around takes the more expected police procedural track; while Hochhausler’s One Minute of Darkness switches focus from pursuer to pursued, as the fugitive takes shelter in the town’s surrounding countryside. As three individual but intimately connected tales, Dreileben is a relatively unorthodox viewing experience - though not a wholly unique one. The component films of Lucas Belvaux’s Trilogy, for instance, similarly shared the same cast and characters, while only a fortnight ago, rising stars Jessica Chastain and Joel Edgerton agreed to star in Ned Benson’s dual-film love story The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, which will purportedly split its narrative into ‘his’ and ‘hers’ viewpoints.
Dreileben differs from these examples, however, in its promise to present not only multiple character perspectives, but multiple directorial voices. That it originated on German television is suggestive of a multi-director precursor from closer to home: Channel 4’s Red Riding trilogy, which played in cinemas outside the UK. After squeezing David Peace’s source novels into three screenplays, Julian Jarrold, James Marsh and Anand Tucker filmed a segment each, with overlaps and cross-references building into a richly-textured whole. Another (partially) domestic example is the Advance Party project, a conceptual trilogy of Danish/Scottish co-productions that also uses shared characters in wildly divergent ways (Andrea Arnold’s Red Road and Morag McKinnon’s Donkeys still await their final piece).
Each of these examples challenges conventional cinematic parameters, presenting alternatives influenced in part by television’s serial structures, but with potential further parallels to, for instance, franchises filmed back-to-back. But such boundary-testing isn’t without its drawbacks: with all three Dreileben instalments screening in quick succession, you might want to bring a cushion.