Alice in the Cities (1974)

3 07 2008

By starting with Kings of the Road, I think I’ve downplayed Wenders’ slightly heavy sensibility. Perhaps it is the divisions in dialouge of that film, but both this and Wrong Move seem more outrightly ponderous. Still, this doesn’t do much to damage the film. There’s plenty of moments where the characters would do a lot of good to shut the hell up but Wenders still has a much more fleshed vision of the people in his films than a director like say, Peter Greenaway. It is pretty impressive to realize that Wenders was this skilled with his actors from the beginning. He made a few relatively underseen films before, but considering how early on he made this, his vision is almost fully formed.

Phillip Winter, a German journalist reporting on the “American scene” has a severe case of writer’s block, which he combats by frequently taking photographs. On his last dime with an angry boss looking over his shoulder, he decides to return back home. While booking his flight he meets Lisa, who has recently separated herself from her husband, and her daughter, Alice. The three rent a hotel room together as their flight is scheduled for the next day. That morning, Lisa ditches Phillip and Alice, and leaves a note telling them to go ahead. She wants to work out some personal issues and promises to be on the next flight. However, she isn’t, and Alice becomes Phillip’s responsibility.

There’s plenty of potential for some overly cutesy material, but Wenders avoids almost all of it, opting once again for a very Antonioni inspired approach. Actually, this shares a specific resemblance with Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers, which (perhaps) would could also mean The Brown Bunny but it unfortunately, never becomes that personal. Instead, it begins to drift towards the side of philosophical blabberings, which is actually quite hilarious considering one of the principle characters is meant to be a nine year old girl. Like Kings of the Road, Wenders seems quick and able to ditch such a sensibility and trade it in for awkward silences. That’s nice, but it ultimately gives off a very inconsistent and frustrating structure. Really, Wenders just should have stripped all the overly-talkative scenes all together as they rarely stumble upon the profound readings for which they are intended.

And yet, I can still safely say this is a pretty fantastic movie, if only for how good Wenders is during his best moments. It really speaks volumes about Muller’s black and white cinematography that it looks so great here, despite the fairly poor film stock. In fact, it looks a lot better than Wrong Move, which would sort of indicate that neither he nor Wenders were completely confident in using color. Obviously, this doesn’t look quite as good as Kings of Road if only for the limited production values, but still comes off looking fairly good. There does seem to be a lot more close-up sensory-driven here than in his subsequent films, which does give it a distinction. For as great as the film it is (and it really is great), I can’t help but see it as something of a warm-up for Kings of the Road even if the two are polar opposites in terms of narrative.

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One response

27 07 2008
james

i know what you’re saying about the “frustrating and inconsistent structure,” i don’t know if structure is specifically the thing but wenders is pretty dodgy when it comes to sustaining mood. great movie anyway. did you ever think about seeing the state of things? it is about as good.

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