A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Kings of the Road (Wim Wenders, 1976)

Rüdiger Vogler and Hanns Zischler in Kings of the Road
Bruno Winter: Rüdiger Vogler
Robert Lander: Hanns Zischler
Pauline: Lisa Kreutzer
Robert's Father: Rudolf Schündler
Man Whose Wife Killed Herself: Marquard Bohm
Paul: Hans Dieter Trayer
Theater Owner: Franziska Stömmer

Director: Wim Wenders
Screenplay: Wim Wenders
Cinematography: Robby Müller, Martin Schäfer
Film editing: Peter Przygodda

Three hours is a considerable chunk of time to invest in a film whose plot and characters are going nowhere, but Wim Wenders somehow pulls it off in Kings of the Road -- a title that seems inevitable for a film that ends with Roger Miller's song, "King of the Road," but whose German title is a little more descriptive: Im Lauf der Zeit, "in the course of time." For time is what the central character, Bruno Winter, has plenty of. All he has to do is drive from one small German town to another, servicing the projectors in movie houses. These are towns set aside from the Wirtschaftswunder that Rainer Werner Fassbinder, for example, satirizes in his films: They are in decline, and the sparseness of the population Winter encounters is striking. They are also along the border between West and East Germany, a split that's taking a psychic toll on their residents. Though he's very much a loner, indeed wallowing in his loneliness, Winter takes in a companion, Robert Lander, whom he encounters one day trying to kill himself by driving his speeding VW bug into the Elbe. The car refuses to sink until Lander finally climbs out through the sunroof and wades ashore with his suitcase. In the course of time, Winter and Lander become friends, and Kings of the Road becomes a very German version of the buddy movie. They're not Butch and Sundance, but simply two malcontents who find themselves cast together by circumstance. Much of Kings of the Road was improvised, with Wenders confessing that he would lose sleep at night worrying about what he might shoot the next day. It becomes a portrait of a generation, the one born at the end of World War II, in search of itself, as well as a portrait of a country trying to recover from that war's lingering traumas. Inevitably, both Winter and Lander confront the past: Lander in a visit to his father, from whom he has been estranged for several years, and Winter by a visit to the abandoned house on an island in the Rhine where he spent his childhood. Though its length and plotlessness inevitably result in some slackness, the film feels to me oddly more resonant than some of Wenders's more tightly constructed ones.

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