The Trio
(Das Trio)

TLA Releasing,

Hermine Huntgeburth

Horst Sczerba,
Volker Einraunh,
Hermine Huntgeburth

Goltz George,
Jeanette Helm,
Felix Eitner,
Christian Redi

German with English subtitles

Unrated, 97 minutes

Family Values
by Michael D. Klemm
Reprinted from Outcome, April, 2003


From the German studio that once produced the ground-breaking Taxi Zum Klo comes The Trio, an oddball mix of criminal caper film, family portrait, screwball comedy and sex farce.

Zobel and Karl are longtime partners both in crime and in bed. They live in a cramped trailer with Lizzie, Zobel's twenty-something, tomboy-ish daughter. This unconventional threesome makes a living by picking pockets, a profession that Zobel insists has been "honorable for ages." The stress of their job is getting to Karl, and Zobel doesn't help matters when he berates him for his mistakes and calls him "old." Karl panics when one of their heists goes wrong and flees the scene. Standing at the railing of a bridge, it seems as if he is about to jump. When Zobel and Lizzie try to stop him, he runs into traffic and is hit by a car.

Though he blames himself for Karl's accident, Zobel has to consider more practical matters. While Karl lies in the hospital, the remaining duo needs to find a replacement. Lizzie brings Rudolf, a handsome thief, into the fold. His first meeting with Zobel is strained... Rudolf, after all, had lifted Karl's wallet in the film's opening scene and Zobel doesn't trust him. But he sees the young man's worth and reluctantly takes him onboard. He makes it clear that there is one rule that must be obeyed: "No bodily fluids exchanged within the team."

This is a rule that is quickly transgressed. Both Zobel and Lizzie cannot take their eyes off of the sly but sexy Rudolf as he washes up at the sink in their crowded trailer. Sexual tensions complicate an already tense situation. Rudolf is hardly oblivious to the desires of his companions and it isn't long before he is shagging both of them. And then the wild rumpus starts.

The farcical elements of the film's second half are funny indeed, like a Rock Hudson-Doris Day romp with illicit sex front and center. The Trio, is a one-of-a-kind movie that works on many levels. Europeans excel at such burlesques, managing simultaneously to inject depth and character into what otherwise might be just utter silliness. Stereotypes are nowhere in existence here. Rudolf is a mechanic who writes poetry and constantly washes his hands. Against audience expectations, Lizzie turns out to be the predatory one instead of Zobel when she nails Rudolf first in a mall's locker room. Zobel, on the other hand, shows restraint despite his visible lust for the young man. He will be quietly and lovingly seduced by the fickle Rudolf while grieving for his lost partner, Karl.

All hell, of course, breaks loose when the deception is discovered. The Trio, is as dramatic as it is funny. Many aspects that would be played for laughs in a Hollywood movie are presented here with great sensitivity. I was most impressed by the nuanced portrait of a longtime gay marriage that is detailed in the early scenes. Zobel and Karl are two rugged men who, despite their combative natures, truly love each other. In some ways, they are reminiscent of another cinematic couple, Renato and Albin in the original La Cage Aux Folles but without the flamboyance. "You're big and strong," Zobel reassures his morose lover, "but not fat." Neither man is a great beauty but both are burly bear types who exude masculinity. How refreshing, for a change, to see a tender love scene between two older men instead of the usual buff gym queens who populate most films of this genre. This wonderful scene is peppered with many untypical touches such as Zobel pulling off Karl's wig and stroking his hairy chest with it. As a finale, Karl gives in to Zobel's pleading and indulges his feminine side, donning a sequined dress to sing a warmly enticing rendition of "My Girl."

Beautifully cast and smarty acted, these characters are truly alive and not one-dimensional cartoons. This would be more apparent to German audiences, but Zobel is played by Gotz George, an actor best known for "he-man" roles in his native country. Director Huntgeburth is masterfully casting against type here, as if, for example, an American director had given the role to Tommy Lee Jones. Christian Redi is sexy and tragic as Karl, Jeanette Helm's Lizzie is tough-as-nails yet vulnerable, and Felix Eitner's Rudolf is cute, dim-witted but cagey as a fox. The film moves at a brisk pace, accompanied by an offbeat score which blends a wild circus calliope with rock music. This is a Rainer Werner Fassbinder film crossed with The Kids in the Hall and the result is a delight. Those, like me, with an appetite beyond the mainstream, will eat it up.