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By Phil Hall | May 16, 2008

Fans of the 1962 cult movie classic “Carnival of Souls” will experience a bit of deja vu with this unofficial German remake. While the new version lacks the outrageous charm of the Herk Harvey original, it still offers a genuinely entertaining diversion.

Yella (the beautiful Nina Hoss) is trying to leave her dead-end life and unstable ex-husband for a new accounting job. Her ex offers to drive her to the train station, but a fight ensues during the trip and he steers the car off a bridge and into a river. Yella is able to survive and make her train, but she discovers her new job was a sham (the man who hired her is an ex-employee who is not allowed access to the workplace). However, she is quickly recruited by a shady businessman who uses Yella’s accounting expertise and deadpan personality to help engineer several tricky investment deals. Yella appears to be off to a new life – except her ex-husband seems to be haunting her.

Of course, the haunting aspect of the story, plus the obvious debt to “Carnival of Souls,” tips off the twist ending long before the closing credits roll. It’s a shame that filmmaker Christian Petzold wasn’t able to reimagine and realign the story in order to avoid the obvious and inevitable denouement.

Nonetheless, this is a handsomely made film, and its scenes involving the perilous business negotiations (with Hoss’ Yella as a surprisingly effective forensic accountant of dubious portfolios) offer more genuine intellectual excitement than any CGI-stuffed chase. Hoss, working brilliantly opposite Devid Streisow as her unscrpulous last-minute employer, redefines the concept of ruthless business practices with bloodless skill.

“Yella” provides a distinctive sense of off-kilter diversion that will appeal to both the art house crowd (who believe the best films must come with subtitles) and those who prefer their cinematic chills on the “lite” side (no gore, no excess violence, just plenty of Hitcockian-worthy jitters).

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