3 is a German variation on the classic French bedroom farce. As such, in addition to the leaping from metaphorical bed to metaphorical bed with all the attendant cross-purposes and miscommunications, there are also robust and tantalizing morsels of semiotics, synchronicity, existential identity, with a romantic spirit at work that not only invokes, but also externalizes Hesse. Simple it is not, fascinating, absorbing, confusing, and enlightening it is.
The absurd and the tragic are one and the same as Simon (Sebastian Schipper) and Hanna (Sophie Rois) reach their 20th anniversary. It almost slips by them what with Simon’s bout with testicular cancer and Hanna’s embarking on an affair with a stem-cell researcher whose specialty is fertility issues, Adam (Devid Striesow). He doesn’t so much seduce her as allow her to be seduced by him. His passivity is a perfect metaphor for his profession, taking specific cells and metamorphosing them into an undifferentiated mass that goes where it’s needed and does what’s required. He is not cold, but his warmth is of a particular and impersonal nature. Hanna and Simon, on the other hand, have grown past passion, but into an oddly sterile intimacy.
Philosophical ruminations about what shapes whom and why when it comes to the human need to categorize are brought to piquant life in Tywer’s script and direction. The art direction is blissfully obvious, Adam’s apartment is barren, but his sex life is active. Hana and Simon live in a cozy mess of books and furniture that is oversized and organic. So is the careful lighting that is at once bright but diffused, harsh, but allowing few shadows, but abounding in gray areas. The writing, however, is subtle, sly, even playful as it tricks the audience with what seems obvious but isn’t and vice-versa. Expectations are fulfilled in unexpected ways that are, in many cases, more direct and more honest than traditional storytelling allows. Roiae and Schipper play the traditional roles of a man and woman drifting apart without consciously doing so, but Striesow’s performance is the lynchpin. Beautiful, available, but unengaged beyond the moment, he is a canvas on which to project everything, and the catalyst that acts in concert with the chemistry it finds rather than overwhelming it.
Animal instinct and spiritual longings invent ways to be at odds, though they are one and the same, if only Simon would see it that way. His curiosity quickly gives way to attraction and lust when Adam makes advances at the pool they both frequent. Advances that have a purity of motive and a goal unfettered with faux modesty or coy flirtation. It’s only later, when they have a beer together that Simon is unsure of what to do. Applying the label of “gay” sets for himself imagined rules that he knows nothing about and doesn’t want to break. Adam, being and incarnation of action without the restraints of labels or conventions, smiles with a beneficent compassion. The delicate choreography of the story, revealed in précis by a pas de trois at the outset, follows all the rules of the traditional bedroom farce, but infuses it with a gravity that is more than the story at hand. As the action reaches toward its denouement, Tykwer arranges for the three to find themselves at the same art gallery, the randomness of their movements is like so many atoms spinning in space, but their very proximity proving the order that is not apparent to those standing too close to the action.
Tykwer makes of time and space, past and present and future, inner life and outer reality, a mutable substance that is all of a piece, and he does it with a graphic aetherialness that is mesmerizing. 3 is more than a mere film, it is a meditation on the fluidity and fragility of life that comforts as it explicates.