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.

Preceded by:
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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