Reviews and notes
1975 Rotterdam, Antwerp, Melbourne, Sydney, Berlin, Locarno, Edinburgh, London, Chicago
A free adaptation of Goethe's Wilhelm Meister
(1795), Wim Wender's Wrong Movement
from a script by novelist Peter Handke has a haunting quality, that refers more to the present than the past... Like Wilhelm Meister, facing the world to find his 'ich' 180 years ago, the Wenders-Handke journey begins in Kiel to roam along the Rhine amid poetic, natural beauty until finally the Zugspitze is reached. Wilhelm's companions are the rational Therese, who challenges his dreams of becoming a writer with hard, feminine tact; the bisexual, provocative Mignon in company with the mouth-harp player Laertes; and the corpulent, bumbling Austrian poet Landau. These figures reflect portions of the German soul in subtle, varying degrees of thought and feeling... The group stays overnight in the castle quarters of an industrialist; after an evening of analysing dreams and the next day a poetic discussion through a hillside vineyard (in a remarkable single take), the group returns home to find their host has hung himself. The film is filled with many such disturbing, probing and deftly executed sequences. One of this year's most highly acclaimed and awarded films, it takes laurels in every phase of production. The single drawback is that it's probably too German to be grasped by uninitiated audiences.
- Ron Holloway, Variety, 1975.
The second film in Wim Wenders’s road-movie trilogy, released in West Germany in 1975, never played in first run in the US until it opened in theaters in advance of the Criterion Collection’s DVD release this year. Peter Handke wrote the screenplay, a 1970s update of Goethe’s second novel, Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship
, which was published the same decade Jane Austen wrote Lady Susan
. The film’s protagonist (Rüdiger Vogler, who’s in all three road films) narrates the film in Handke-speak: I want to be a writer, but is that possible when you don’t like people? I wanted to sleep with her, but maybe it was just an urge to get a grip on things.
Vogler’s Wilhelm starts the film by punching through window glass and then embarks on a journey across the Federal Republic, picking up stray travelers along the way: an old man (Hans Christian Blech) and a girl (Nastassja Kinski), an actress (Hanna Schygulla), and a poet (Peter Kern). The cast and Robby Müller’s color cinematography give the film a strange feeling that sets it apart from Wenders’s other road movies, which are in black-and-white and feature actors more closely associated with Wenders, not Fassbinder.
The Germany of Wrong Move
looks like the present more than today’s films set in the 1970s feel like the ’70s. It’s not just the fashions but the attitudes — the sense of aimlessness and the search for meaning in a fallen world — that resemble our time. Wenders and Handke repudiate Goethe’s Romanticism, yet the film feels brighter and clearer than films today, like the air in the mountains where Wilhelm ends up.
Cinematic tropes of the 1970s date from films like this. Children then were casually exposed to things they were supposed to be too young to be around, offered drinks, sexualized, bereft of the special teen culture that would provide the fodder for blockbuster entertainment for the next forty years. Kinski, here a pre–Wings of Desire
acrobat and 13 at the time, appears nude, dangling herself before Wilhelm as an alternative to a relationship with the adult Schygulla. In overalls and a rainbow sweater, she takes forever to eat an apple, like in a Warhol film. Later the group, exhausted and without a plan, lounges in front of a TV set watching a black-and-white movie, Straub and Huillet’s The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach
(1968) — a tableau of the kind of anomie ignored by jumpy re-creations of this period.
- A. S. Hamrah, n+1, Fall 2016.
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