Kings of the Road (1976)

23 06 2008

A perfect example of that “epic plotlessness” that I love so dearly. This is (more or less) three hours of two guys riding in a truck and then walking around wherever they stop. On occasion, Wenders indulges in a bit too much dialogue, which seems to either be contrived attempts at poetry or minor exposition. Otherwise, this is a an fully realized masterpiece. Almost like an Antonioni film filtered through Wenders’ own vision of loneliness, isolation, and ennui. The events proceed so relaxed and effortlessly but provide revelations so profound and important. Despite the length, this proves to be a perfect introduction into the cinematic world of Wim Wenders.

Bruno drives cross-country as a repairman for projection equipment. He picks up a (unintentional) hitchhiker named Robert Lander, who we soon learn has recently separated himself from his wife. The two rarely talk, but they seem to share a mutual respect for one another. As they drift from town to town, they meet a select cast of eccentric personalities, almost all of which embody the same quiet, poetic sadness as themselves. Robert returns to his childhood home and visits his father, and Bruno attempts a romance with a concession stand worker at a theater. These moments, though fleeting, provide the basis for the narrative.

One of the most immediately noticeable technical aspects here is the gorgeous black and white cinematography courtesy of Robby Müller. Its fitting that it is so similar to Antonioni’s features from the early 60s since Antonioni rather reluctantly had Wenders co-direct Beyond the Clouds. Anyway, the visuals here are stunning regardless of the similarities to other films. The music, though not without its intrusive moments, seems to perfectly compliment the visual strengths. While it has a very “America ’70s” vibe, it still feels somewhat timeless and universal feel as well. There are some pieces that come close to interrupting the power of the images, but, for the most part, the music seems to come up at almost the exactly right time. It tends to come in during these rather odd transition sequences, almost widescreen “pillow shots” which reflect Wenders’ admiration of Yasujiro Ozu. Though, even Ozu, perhaps the greatest of all directors, never got to work with music as good as Improved Sound Limited’s “9 Feet Over the Tarmac.”

As pitch-perfect as all the technical things are here, it is more impressive how depth of the emotional core. The performances here seem to greatly anticipate the performances of Denis Lavant in Leos Carax’s films as well as Lee Kang-sheng in Tsai Ming-Liang’s films. While this “style” of acting (if it can even be called that) has deeper roots with Bresson and (again) Antonioni, it seems come closer to full realization in this film. It probably helps that the principle characters here have a similar type of masculine sensitivity – a very downplayed quiet sadness that is present in both Tsai and Carax’s films. While Wenders never goes as far as to make a romantic relationship the main focus, he does capture the same type of fleeting beauty found in such interactions. That almost in and of itself is enough to proclaim this film as a masterpiece. Of course, the decision is made easier by plenty of other fantastic elements. Pretty much one of the best movies ever.

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2 responses

23 06 2008
Eli

Great! I don’t like the other Wenders that I’ve seen nearly as much as this one.

10 02 2013
tockadotcom

a masterpiece with a capital M!

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