Taking a cue from Kieslowski's Three Colors by way of the British Red Riding series, this TV trilogy from three German directors of the Berlin School starts out with a creepy aura of dread and mystery and ends with contrived and unsatisfying resolutions. Each film is set in the title town, an isolated burg in Thuringia, once part of the former East Germany and a place haunted by the ghosts of the past and the monsters of legend, from witch hunts centuries ago to the more recent tragedies of the Third Reich and the Communist era.
These events — mythic, historic, personal, and usually traumatic — are layered like the peeling wallpaper in the house being renovated by a character in the middle film of the series, Dominik Graf's Don't Follow Me Around. Appropriately, the narratives of the three films are similarly stratified, with overlapping points-of view, a non-linear chronology, and seeming digressions that prove important as the story progresses.
The first film, Christian Petzold's Beats Being Dead, is the best. In it, Johannes (Jacob Matschenz), a gifted medical student from a modest background, works as an intern at the local hospital. He's torn between ex-flame Sarah (Vijessna Ferkic), the daughter of his boss, who's the top doctor at the hospital and a wealthy nabob of the community, and Ana (Luna Mijovic), a Bosnian immigrant working at a hotel. Sarah appeals to Johannes's ambition but is aloof and vapid, and Ana is sensuous and spontaneous, but as becomes increasingly clear, manipulative and unstable.
Meanwhile a manhunt for Molesch (Stefan Kurt), an unhinged convicted murderer, intensifies, and the background menace of that story, developed further in the subsequent films, infuses Beats Being Dead with the uncanniness of a Grimm's fairy tale. Little of that atmosphere survives the climactic film, Christoph Hochhäusler One Minute of Darkness, told from the point of view of the generically psychopathic Molesch, which plays like an episode of CSI.