1984 heartbreaking masterpiece Cannes Grand Prize winner
Plot: A drifting father reconnects with an eight-year-old son he hasn't seen in four years before stealing away to Houston to search for the boy's mother.
I really hated every single poster I saw for this movie, just a completely ugly collection. And that's strange because Wim Wenders' movie is so beautiful, every frame just almost perfect. Wenders uses color so well, throws the main character in just the right amount of shadow, and has gorgeous backdrops that are quintessentially American. Even when the setting isn't beautiful--like bricks with so-so graffiti art that somebody's scrawled the word "pussy" on--Wenders somehow makes it beautiful. I've never been to Houston, and I've only been to Texas a couple times. The opening shots are of a dreary desert-y Texan landscape; later, we get Houston, but Wenders somehow makes that desolate as well. You get the sense that there's barely anybody in Houston--just our central characters, a sleazy John Lurie, and the girls at the peep show business Lurie's character operates. Billboard deconstruction, abandoned cars, shadowy dinosaurs, a truck stop phone booth, busy freeways, geological monuments, peep show room insulation. It's all so beautiful.
Leave it to a German dude to make a movie so undeniably American. Others pay attention more and just have a better understanding of what this country's all about. Like Werner Herzog with Stroszek. This was a dancing chicken away from being a similar look at a different American dream.
I always--always--like Harry Dean Stanton when I see him, but you never really get to see the guy carry a movie. Now that I think about it, I started off 2015 watching Harry Dean Stanton and John Lurie playing apostles in The Last Temptation of Christ, and I'm finishing off the year with those guys, too. Stanton's performance isn't perfect here. There are lines that don't sound like they're delivered right, and he doesn't always have the best chemistry with Hunter Henderson who plays his son, Hunter. A scene where father and son are in a car during this movie's lone action sequence could probably be described as terribly acted. For the most part, however, it's a brilliant performance, especially when he isn't saying anything at all. He starts the movie like a mute, and there are full stories being told on his face. He ends the movie silently--just standing there in one scene and listening to somebody else's monologue a little earlier--and all the gaps created by the action and dialogue in those scenes are filled in by his posture and his eyes.
Nastassja Kinski plays Travis's ex, and it's also a performance that is very nearly perfect. She's stunning, but I don't think I'd ever want to have sex with her because I'd start thinking of her dad--Klaus Kinski--and be terrified. Can you imagine dating Klaus Kinski's daughter? Anyway, Kinski is really good here. She nailed the accent.
So much of the first three-fourths of this movie reads like Zen koans, almost little jokes without clear punchlines, inconsequential scenes with dialogue and situations so gappy and poignant. You fill those gaps on your own, both for the lives of these characters and all of humanity. Everything's protracted and sluggish, but it gives the movie's ideas time to breathe. I felt it was almost perfectly paced although I think it would probably bore most American viewers. It'll remind you of Jarmusch a little bit.
Oh, I do want to mention the score which is almost entirely Ry Cooder guitar noodling. It, for the most part, matches the situations and scenery perfect, plaintive slow-motion lonesome jams. It reminded me of a movie I've seen in the last couple years.
The movie's not terribly happy, and I can guarantee that no two people watching this are going to agree about the ending. After a long scene where characters spend time saying more than anybody's said for the entire movie, the movie ends dismally, that American dream kind of just left there to exist in nothing more than a withered photograph.
This is the first of a weekly thing my brother and I are doing where we take turns picking a Criterion movie to watch. Spoiler alert: He apparently doesn't like this one.