“3” ✮✮✮

A New Kind of Love

by Glenn Lovell

Hey, it’s a new day, a time of mind-numbing distractions, multitasking and media overload. What hope has conventional love of taking root in this cultural bog? Maybe, just maybe, a new time calls for a new romantic equation. Instead of two’s company, three’s a crowd, how about: Couples? Old hat. Threesomes are where it’s at!

Tom Tykwer’s sexy and satirical “3” (in German with English subtitles) is all about geometry and numerology ‒ and, yes, today’s hot-button issue: stem cell research. It toys with the pleasing symmetry of parallelism. Indeed, it opens with a long, sustained shot of  power lines viewed from a train window as a male voice intones, “You on top, me below.”

But eventually Tykwer’s latest morphs, like transplanted embryo cells, into something quite different, a blind-sided triangle romance.

This one is hard to categorize. Maybe that’s why it’s been a hard sell on the international market. Is it a comedy, a drama, a dramedy? There are definitely laughs and farcical interludes; there’s even a diaphanous angel who delivers a Hermann Hesse poem. But there are also gasps, especially during graphic footage of testicular surgery. Yes, you’re right, hardly the stuff of conventional comedy.

But then we’ve come to expect the unexpected ‒ thematically and stylistically ‒ from the director of “Winter Sleepers” and the exhilarating “Run Lola Run.” And this film is certainly is that.

Let’s settle, then, on calling it an alarming comedy, part Billy Wilder, part Wim Wenders.

The three unwitting Berliners in this game of musical beds: Dr. Hanna Blum (Sophie Rois), a TV talk-show host and most conservative member of  a medical ethics panel; Simon Sievers (Sebastian Schipper), an “art engineer” and Hanna’s live-in boyfriend; Dr. Adam Born (Devid Striesow), a younger stem-cell researcher who takes Hanna to bed and then Simon. The twist: He doesn’t know they’re involved, and Hanna never guesses Simon is fooling around, much less with the same person.

It’s a little bit like the John Schlesinger classic “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” only here played more for muffled laughs than hot-house melodrama. Credit Rois with keeping things ruefully amusing. As the instigator of this roundelay, she’s as exasperating as she is perpetually exasperated, in a dizzy Shirley MacLaine sort of way. Schipper, whose character must cope with his mother’s death as well as worrying news from his urologist, is more sympathetic as he makes the transition from self-pity to self-awareness (in his bisexuality). Striesow nicely underplays Simon, the catalyst for change. His vacant, boyish half-smile masks deeper emotions.

This being a Tykwer film, “3” abounds in coincidence, playful daydreams and camera trickery. Like a live-action photo album, split-screen images slide in and out of place to chart the passage of time. Yes, there are structural issues and, as was the case with “Perfume,” the director sometimes seems to be desperately goosing a cluttered narrative. But never mind. The modern-dance opening and three-in-a-petri dish finish ‒ both staged against stark white backdrops ‒ are worth the price of admission. They’re wondrous and startling, like Tykwer’s take on 21st Century romance.

“3” ✮✮✮ With Sophie Rois, Sebastian Schipper, Devid Striesow. Directed, written by Tom Tykwer. No MPAA rating (would be R for steamy sex scenes). 119 min.

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