Friday, May 03, 2013

Im Lauf der Zeit

1976, West Germany, directed by Wim Wenders

For a film that is in many ways about alienation from modern life, especially modern German life, this is a strikingly warm and often humours piece, in which Wenders weaves big ideas about society and social relations into a portrait of two men on the road. The interaction between character and idea is far more natural here than in later work like Wings of Desire, which never quite worked for me -- it seemed to signal its own perceived importance, notwithstanding individually successful elements.

That's not to say that every scene here comes off: the sequence with the bereaved man and that in which Robert (Hanns Zischler) reunites with his father are both a little on the obvious side, though each has passages that are successful even if the overall execution lacks subtlety. But those scenes hardly set the overall tone, of constant, elegiac movement in which we're always aware of the end of the journey even as it might seem to unspool to infinity.

Wenders provides us with a very different look at Germany: there's little about postwar recovery and economic success, but instead small towns that have seen better days, and the abandoned countryside (in which both central characters are complicit). The film celebrates much that has been lost in Germany's recent history -- whether it's old vehicles or disappearing skills like cinema projection, printing, even rowing across the Rhine (Wenders and Robby Müller show that they've not forgotten much about how to create gorgeous black and white images, though).

The central characters might be expected to embrace the modern given their complicated relationships with their personal histories but they are instead driven to revisit the past in an attempt at understanding. That process of understanding also relates, of course, to understanding where they stand as Germans born after the war -- the the chill, never verbalized, that descends when the Third Reich is mentioned takes the smile off the face of even Bruno (Rüdiger Vogler), that most good-natured of characters.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States