#815 Wrong Move
1975 // Germany // Wim Wenders
Criterion Release Date: 31 May 2016 (LINK)
“At times I stared into space without looking at anything. Then I shut my eyes, and only by the afterimage I realized what had been in front of me”, such soliloquy by the protagonist Wilhelm Meister (Rüdiger Vogler) just summarised my overall thought on Wim Wenders’ film Wrong Move, the middle section of “The Road Trilogy”. Out of the three films, Wrong Move was the last one I watched and, unfortunately, my least favorite as well.
During the one hour and forty-five minutes screening time, I felt like I’m staring on a blank page stuffed with philosophical talks that I, with futile efforts, could hardly connect. Only by the “afterimage” that I started to pick up something, something without form and logic but an impression. I partly blame myself, and the fact that the film was scripted. The screenplay, based on Goethe’s 1790s novel Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, was written by playwright, novelist and sometimes director Peter Handke, who was a long-time friend of Wenders and provided him the screenplay for Wenders’ early film The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick (1972). In Wrong Move, the period of the story was transposed into 1970s Germany, with the emotional detachment in films of Antonioni and theatricality in films of Fassbinder.
Wim Wenders preserved the dialogues of the screenplay but change the location as he needed. Wilhelm Meister was a writer who suffered more than simply a writer’s block, it tended to be a personal crisis (he saw he broken the windows of his apartment by fist with no reason immediately after the opening credits). It also served as a continuation of Rüdiger Vogler previous character, Phillip Winter, in Alice in the Cities (1974), who failed to written anything during his American trip and only took pictures with Polaroid camera. But for Wilhelm, his journey aimed to be the “cure” or a meditation of his crisis, it was a half-forced and half-volunteered trip, as his apartment was sold by his mother (Marianne Hoppe).
For the remaining of the film, it could be viewed as multiple chance encounters and aimless wandering where destinations were vague or inconsequential. Wilhelm travelled from north to south, met a mute acrobat girl Mignon (Nastassja Kinski), on her debute performance) accompanied with a con old man Laertes (Hans Christian Blech) who happened to be a runner in 1936 Olympic and an ex-Nazi. Therese Farner (Hanna Schygulla), an actress who Wilhelm glimpsed in a train station on separate train (one of the most memorable sequence in the film, with Hanna at the window of a train and the camera tracing her from another parallel moving trains), miraculously showed up in town and joined the group.
After the not-so-talented weirdo poet Bernhard Landau (Peter Kern) tracked them whilst wandering in town (a compelling scene of microscopic depiction of daily 70s Germany back in the ally), Bernhard bought them to a mansion lived by a widower industrialist (Ivan Desny). Things turned obscure and episodic, interactions from characters to characters failed for bonding and soul searching. Loneliness, dreams were discussed in vain. Wenders’ long-time collaborator in cinematography Robby Müller struck more for functionality and physicality in Wrong Move, in contrast to his more impressive landscape photography in Kings of the Road (1976) and Paris, Texas (1984). In this film, locations were not presented as substantial as those in Alice in the Cities (New York, Amsterdam) and Kings of the Road (the worn-down theaters in West Germany), Wilhelm’s route was, in consequence, less significant thematically.
The “afterimage”, together with the ominously enchanting music by Jürgen Knieper, grew more in spiritual form rather than, like the film narrative, in literal. The narration by Wilhelm and the philosophical talks were often over-pretentious, they countered the improvisational effect of movement I much admired in the other two films of the trilogy. But was it a fault to have and follow a script like many Hollywood films? Definitely not. But whatever happened (okay, maybe 90%) in Wrong Move, were lifeless on screen and only reborn afterwards, and I desire more.