Alice in den Städten

 (Wim Wenders, West Germany, 1974) 110 minutes


Director: Wim Wenders
Producer: Joachim von Mengershausen
Screenplay: Wim Wenders, Veith von Fürstenberg
Cinematography: Robby Müller
Editor: Peter Przygodda
Music: Can
Rüdiger Vogler (Philip 'Phil' Winter)
Yella Rottländer (Alice van Damm)
Elisabeth Kreuzer (Lisa - Alice's Mother)
Edda Köchl (Angela - Friend in New York)
Ernest Boehm (Publisher)
Sam Presti (Car Dealer)

Reviews and notes

1974 Berlin, Edinburgh, New York, Chicago, London
1975 Sydney, Melbourne

In Wim Wenders’s 1974 drama, Rüdiger Vogler plays the director’s alter ego, Philip Winter, a thirtysomething German journalist on the road in the United States. Taking Polaroids instead of writing a story, Philip loses his job and must go home. But first, in New York, he’s thrown together with Alice van Damm (Yella Rottländer), a nine-year-old German girl abandoned by her mother (Lisa Kreuzer), and takes her on an odyssey from Manhattan to Amsterdam and a series of German towns. With this film, Wenders crystallized his style of existential sentimentality. His cool eye for urbanism and design blends a love of kitsch with a hatred for commercialism, historicism with a fear of history’s ghosts. Wenders’s New York chapter is a loving time capsule featuring the Rockaway Beach boardwalk and the organist at Shea Stadium; his German towns blend grim industry and grubby necessity. The movie runs on American dreams; a jukebox playing Canned Heat, a Chuck Berry concert, and even John Ford’s obituary lend a touch of life to Wenders’s gray continent.
- Richard Brody, New Yorker.

It is extremely heartening that Wenders's film (first seen in Britain at the 1974 LFF) has found not only a distributor but also theatrical release. Notwithstanding the fact that Alice in the Cities will fare better in film societies than in commercial cinemas, it nonetheless deserves wider exposure so that its real virtues may be appreciated. It is neither a cold work nor another tedious exercise in West German political cinema, and though essentially about two characters 'discovering themselves' the film never engages in any direct philosophical ramblings. Its appeal is thus broadened by its unpretentious attitude; the only stumbling-block for child audiences is a degree of rigour in Wenders's style which takes time to absorb.

This, Wenders's fourth feature, contains many stylistic links with his second work, The Goalkeeper's Fear of the Penalty 1972), a gripping existential thriller which contains more memorable moments than simply its clumsy title. There, as in Alice, the central character is dour and given to introspection, a glance replacing words and a sense of completion, of having been played out, suffusing his existence. For the 31-year-old journalist in Alice life goes on in a form of emotional limbo: sent to America to do an article on the country's landscape, he has spent the last few months doing nothing but take pictures of motels. In a series of bleak vistas Wenders quite categorically equates the US with his hero's emotional and professional sterility, focussing particularly on the noise and media domination of the country but also (as in his use of that monument to the transient and rootless — the motel) gaining considerable mileage from the journalist's actual work. The US office is rightly hostile, and he is recalled to Germany. At the airport he meets a young German mother and her nine-year-old blonde daughter; just before take-off the mother leaves a note saying she will join them in Amsterdam, and when this proves false, the incongruous couple wander through Germany in a vain attempt to trace Alice's grandmother.

Familiar devices rear their head: the journalist and his young ward are at loggerheads for much of the film but find a mutual love and respect by the end; similarly, the girl is extremely precocious for her age, and has a straightforwardness which enlivens the journalist's deadened reactions. Each acts as an emotional catalyst for the other: the journalist is revived and the girl taken down a few sensible pegs. Any thoughts that the film might be some sort of Teutonic Paper Moon, however, are quickly dispelled - Yella Rottlander's remarkable performance as Alice is lively yet restrained, tomboyish yet eminently puncturable, and in a matter of minutes puts the cutesy Tatum O'Neal and her like firmly to shame. As in Goalkeeper there is a subplot which provides impetus to the emotional development, here in the form of the search for Alice's grandmother: with only a photo as a clue, the pair set out to track down the house and its occupant within the vast expanse of the Ruhr district.

Wenders' visual style is customarily plain; his technique of rapid fades on short sequences giving the film (like Goalkeeper) a literary feel of being composed in paragraphs. But with such a story there is also considerable lyricism (gentle guitar arpeggios over high sustained violins), used sensibly and with great effect. Wenders's original cut reportedly ran for about five hours, with Alice appearing only after two; Weeders was right to eliminate most of the American material, since it chiefly works only as a prologue to the main action in Germany. And that, economically staged but with considerable style, is worth ninety minutes of anybody's time.
- Derek Elley, Films and Filming, December 1975.

Back to screening list

Home Page | Membership