Petzold’s graduation project at film school (DFFB) is an unconventional crime thriller—which later aired on German television—that introduces a major theme of his films: the plight of women navigating a cold world of dead-end jobs and economic precarity in post-reunification Germany. Loosely adapting Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps, Pilots follows two traveling cosmetic saleswomen—one nearing middle age and fighting for her job, the other a younger competitor who is also the boss’s lover—who start out as enemies and become outlaw accomplices. As they share dreams and humiliations, Petzold captures mid-nineties Germany’s bland highway landscapes of roadside motels and rest-stops in an economical style reminiscent of Robert Bresson. Courtesy of Austrian Filmmuseum.
Christian Petzold, Germany, 1990, 16mm, 9m
German with English subtitles
Stylistically anomalous in Petzold’s oeuvre, this experimental student film favors montage over character-driven continuity, but it nevertheless announces several of his trademark obsessions: American pulp and noir, film theory, and a sustained critique of the post-1989 German political economy. Courtesy of Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek.
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