Village Voice 04.19.2017 : Page 44

44 April 19 April 25, 2017 König of the Road VILLAGE A young Wim Wenders (and a lost generation) navigates Germany T BY BILGE EBIRI articles, but in his alienation has opted in-stead to take pictures, leading his boss to ire him. In New York, he runs into a sin-gle mom with a young daughter, Alice (Yella Rottländer), and gets saddled with the girl when the woman disappears on the eve of their return to Germany. So Winter heads back to Europe with Alice and, relying on her dodgy memories, at-tempts to ind her grandparents’ house. In Wrong Move , Vogler’s Wilhelm is an aspiring writer who connects with a small group of eccentrics — including an ac-tress (played by the luminous Hanna Schygulla), a failed poet (Peter Kern), and an aging con man and former Nazi sol-dier (Hans Christian Blech) whose travel-ing companion is a mute teenage acrobat (Nastassja Kinski). The ilm, very loosely based on Goethe’s 1795 novel Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship , has an ambling structure in which plot and character mo-tivation take a backseat to long digres-sions about the state of Germany and the he opening scene of Wim Wenders’s Wrong Move is one of the most Wim Wenders things Wim Wenders ever shot. Rüdiger Vogler stands at a window looking out at a mostly empty square in his small German town. Then, quietly, he punches the glass. That might seem a gesture of anger, but his face is mostly expressionless, his movements tired, almost deliberate. Is he doing this out of frustration, or because he just wants to know how it feels to punch a window? We never get a real answer. But the moment is both angst-ridden and kind of funny: Vogler’s detached expression speaks to his alienation, but it’s also a Buster Keatonesque Great Stone Face. Wenders never intended for the ilms he made between 1974 and 1976 — Alice in the Cities , Wrong Move , and Kings of the Road , all playing at BAM this weekend — to be grouped together; it was the critic Richard Roud who called them “The Road Trilogy.” But the director built his initial reputation on these pictures, before be-coming a full-on international superstar with the Palme d’Or–winning Paris, Texas and the unforgettable arthouse hit Wings of Desire . I still remember seeing these early movies on VHS as a teenage ilm geek, their uniformly black boxes embla-zoned with the name “Wenders” running down the side in large block letters; this was one director who got in on the brand-ing game early. At the time, the works were regarded as fashionably bleak and nihilistic. (Mike Myers’s pretentious German artiste Dieter on Saturday Night Live , one imagined, was probably a big Wenders fan.) But this stereotype did little justice to the ilms’ marvelous complexity and irreverent humor — a humor that truly comes to life when you see them on a big screen, with an audience. We think of the road movie as a partic-ularly American genre. And no doubt, Wenders has always worn his American influences on his sleeve, as evidenced in the jukeboxes and rock ’n’ roll records and Fotomats and soda vending ma-chines that clutter these ilms. But the focus here is very much on Germany, and on a generation of Germans who came of age after the war and never quite recon-ciled with the past. Alice in the Cities does open in the U.S., with German journalist Philip Winter (Vogler) on a boardwalk, dejectedly taking Polaroids and com-plaining that they never look like the real thing. Winter was supposed to be iling and attempt to interact with the people desire to create art when one doesn’t like and places they come across, we sense people very much. Over and over in these their need to come to terms with a broken ilms, Wenders returns to questions of society — not just the broken projectors creation and estrangement; you sense a and decaying theaters that Bruno works director working out his own frustrations. with. These men refuse to speak of the “Not writing itself, but wanting to write is past, but the past occasionally intrudes. the need,” we’re told. So where does that At one point, Robert visits his aging fa-impulse go if one cannot write, direct, ther, the owner of a small local newspa-paint, perform? per. There is clearly dark history between Vogler returns in Kings of the Road , this them, but it’s kept vague enough that the time playing Bruno Winter, a movie pro-betrayal feels generational, not personal. jector repairman (symbolism alert!) The failure of the last generation, making his way through the towns on the meanwhile, contrasts with the potential border between East and West Germany of the next one. In several scenes, includ-in a big converted truck. Then he meets ing one hilarious episode involving a Robert Lander (Hanns Zischler), a re-curtain rod and a roomful of boisterous cently divorced pediatric linguist who schoolkids, the characters are reminded of attempts to kill himself by driving his the innocence of childhood — Volkswagen into the Elbe an innocence they may never then exits carrying a suit-return to — when images still case — another moment of Wim Wenders: held an elemental power and angsty, deadpan Wender-The Road Trilogy everything felt alive and new, sian slapstick. As they April 21 23, BAM when going from one place to travel the border, we again another conveyed possibility get almost no character instead of con irming the psychology or narrative prison-like nature of existence. momentum. Instead, we’re given beauti-But there I go, making it sound like ful images of desolation, courtesy of these are despondent, miserabilist Robby Müller’s cinematography. The movies. They’re not, really. Their other-landscape might be postindustrial, or it worldly atmosphere has its own allure; might be primeval. The uncertainty you could easily lose yourself in a picture seems intentional: Is this a wasteland like Kings of the Road . And in all three where nothing grows, or a blank slate ilms, Vogler’s charmingly quiet presence illed with potential? That depends, conveys more bewilderment than tor-probably, on your attitude. ment. Even as he explores our inability Running nearly three hours, Kings of to engage with the world around us, the Road is the director’s most languor-Wenders inds moments of warmth and ous, episodic ilm (which is saying a lot); it humor, of beauty and wonder. He doesn’t was largely improvised over a few weeks want to wallow in the gloom. He wants to as the cast and crew themselves traveled ind ways to pull us all out. these areas. As Bruno and Robert bond Alice in the Cities ’ Yella Rottländer tries to tune in a less bewildering Germany. Bauer International/Photofest

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