WRONG MOVE (Falsche Bewegung) – made for TV, Road Trilogy Pt. 2 B-
Germany (103 mi) 1975 d: Wim Wenders
Germany (103 mi) 1975 d: Wim Wenders
I would also like to speak briefly about loneliness here in Germany. It appears to me to be more hidden and at the same time more painful than elsewhere. The history of ideas here could be responsible for this, with everybody searching for a way of living in which the overcoming of fear would be possible. Preaching virtues like courage, perseverance and industry was simply supposed to distract from fear. At least let us assume that is how it is. Like nowhere else, philosophies could be utilized as state philosophies, so that the necessarily criminal methods by which fear was to be overcome could even be legalized. Fear here is taken for vanity or ignominy. That is why loneliness in Germany is masked by all these tell-tale lifeless faces which haunt supermarkets, recreational areas, pedestrian zones, and fitness centers. The dead souls of Germany...
—The Industrialist (Ivan Desny)
In the second part of the director’s Road Movie Trilogy, Wenders veers into unexplored territory, as it’s largely an out-of-time experiment gone wrong, loosely based on an 18th century coming-of-age novel, Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, set in contemporary times. In the earlier era, leaving home and traveling was a means of acquiring a wealth of experience that one could draw upon for inspiration and literary expansion. Released in 1975, made for television, the film won seven major prizes from the German Film Awards, including Best Director and Best Screenplay, though it’s a film that resists interpretation and is perhaps best known for its interesting use of Fassbinder actors, while also notable for Nastassja Kinski’s marvelous movie debut at the age of 13. Adapted by Peter Handke, an Austrian novelist and playwright who collaborated earlier with Wenders on THE GOALIE’S ANXIETY AT THE PENALTY KICK (1972) and later on Wings of Desire (Der Himmel über Berlin) (1987), there is a coolness of tone that never wavers throughout, psychologically distant and audience unfriendly, featuring an overly detached lead character Wilhelm (Rüdiger Vogler) who readily acknowledges through an inner narration that he has a hatred and distrust of his fellow people, a self-obsessed man incapable of pity, yet he aspires to be a writer. Blinded by his own shortcomings, he sets out on a journey to discover the truth, with mixed results, as there’s some question whether he learns anything at all, and may simply have taken a “wrong turn.” Filmed in color, surprisingly, often at dusk, it must be said that this is a sad and gloomy experience, though not without its comical moments, where this lonely odyssey through the minefields of a contemporary post-war German landscape is akin to a self-portrait of the artist and the nation that includes explorations of autobiographical identity, resurrecting longstanding historical issues of guilt, loss, anger, and confusion, where the question of self-worth is always lingering close to the surface.
The film opens with an aerial shot over the town of Glücksstadt in northern Germany near the mouth of the Elbe River, where we find Wilhelm playing a Troggs album before putting his fist through the window, indicative not only of pent-up frustration, but his inability to break through his own alienation to become a successful writer, where we learn he hasn’t spoken in several days, claiming he’s not desperate, just listless and fed up, and that he’d like to be able to write “something essential.” Certainly one of his impediments is living at home with his domineering mother, played by Marianne Hoppe, a German actress from the 30’s, who not only packs his bags, choosing several books, but buys him a train ticket to Bonn, the provincial Capital of Germany at the time, claiming he needs to get out and explore the world. From out his window he sets his eyes upon Hanna Schygulla, who just completed work on Fassbinder’s EFFI BRIEST (1974), playing actress Therese Farner, who, after an exchanging glance, boards another train, opening the window while continuing to smile at Wilhelm. Passing her phone number to him through the conductor, Wilhelm gazes at her as the trains move parallel to one another, Falsche Bewegung YouTube (1:23), a striking motif that also suggests a romanticized notion of idealized love. Love stories are not something we often get in Wenders’ films, and this is no exception, where the time they spend together could perhaps better be described as the absence of love, ultimately leading to outright revulsion and disgust. It’s also on the train where he first meets Kinski as Mignon, playing a mute acrobat, juggler, and pickpocket, traveling with her much older father calling himself Laertes (Hans Christian Blech), the same name as Odysseus’s father, where metaphorically he may as well be the father of the nation, having played a role in Nazi atrocities, causing his nose to bleed whenever he remembers the horrors of the past. Laertes is also a Brechtian street peddler and con artist, hustling meals and tickets on the train, begging money while pretending to be blind, or passing the hat while his daughter performs. Mignon is a beautiful, strangely compelling character that bears silent witness to the future, which remains continually out of their grasp.
Like a gathering of the spirits, all the central characters meet under one roof, having added to the illustrious assemblage an Austrian poet Bernhard Landau (Peter Kern, who worked in four Fassbinder films), perhaps best known for his bad poetry and personal philosophy, “I never amounted to much and hope to stay that way,” who suggests they can all stay at the country estate of his capitalist uncle, but then leads them into the home of a complete stranger, Ivan Desny as the Industrialist, a role he revisits in THE MARRIAGE OF MARIA BRAUN (1979), who strangely welcomes them into his home, where their arrival interrupts his suicide attempt. What follows is a lengthy speech from the Industrialist suggesting loneliness in Germany is more painful than elsewhere, more hidden, where they are seeking a way of life to overcome their fears, something considered vain and shameful to German citizens. “That’s why loneliness in Germany is masked by all those revealing soulless faces that haunt supermarkets, recreational areas, pedestrian zones, and fitness centers. The dead souls of Germany.” One by one each of the visitors heads upstairs to bed except Wilhelm, still listening intently, where the Industrialist reveals afterwards, “It was very touching to see the way you listened to me.” The next morning the guests all amble up a slowly climbing hill overlooking the Rhine River, with some moving ahead, others lagging behind, continually shifting positions, including an examination of poetry and politics, placing it in context with the nation’s recent past, where the sense of ascendancy has a casual nature about it, yet at the same time they are seeking higher knowledge by engaging in these philosophic discussions, where Wilhelm asserts “In writing, observation’s better than inspiration,” while at the same time confessing he often misses pertinent details that stand in full view right before him, where the path to knowledge is often illusory. This theme of hearing or not hearing, seeing but not seeing, plays a prominent role in Wenders’ films where protagonists suffer from inadequate perception of the world around them, often seen meandering, feeling alienated and lost, as the characters are here, dead souls drifting through time, spewing out soliloquies, speaking in philosophical abstractions, where the sense of disconnection to culture and identity is acute.
Not for everyone, as this is easily Wenders’s most inertly dour film, and his most talkative, where little happens, yet the audience is bombarded by subtitles and various literary concepts, where the level of bleakness has never been more pronounced, exacerbated by an almost total lack of identification with the characters, instead getting lost in the contemporary German landscape. Of particular note is Robby Müller’s cinematography and Jürgen Knieper’s off-putting musical score, where the repeated piano chords are reminiscent of the 5th Movement from Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, which was written in 1941 and first performed in a Nazi concentration camp, played here by Peter Serkin, piano and Ida Kavafian, violin, Louange à l' Immortalité de Jésus - YouTube (8:11). Like In a Year of 13 Moons (In einem Jahr mit 13 Monden) (1978), Fassbinder at his most despairing, Wenders similarly utilizes the city of Frankfurt, at the time the nation’s financial center, where a scant outline could be seen at the time of skyscrapers being built, where the city becomes, “by extension, about the psychic immiseration of life in the soulless cities of modern corporate capitalism.” (from Thomas Elsaesser, 1996, Fassbinder's Germany: History, Identity, Subject). This destination feels like a dead end, a place where aggressions grow stronger and relationships die, becoming a study in colorless buildings and the looming presence of high rises, as if always forced to live in the shadow of existence. In the beginning, as the train pulls out of his hometown, Wilhelm thinks of his mother, “I would remember her better later in some other place.” Similarly, his parting thoughts to Therese, “I know I shall love you very much one day, Therese.” While it’s clear Wilhelm has lost his way, the road to enlightenment in this film is a meandering path of continuous soul-searching, reflecting the multiple attempts to interact and find inspiration in human companionship, but discovering instead an ambiguous world filled with sadly unfulfilled characters involved in meaningless relationships ultimately defined by their aimlessness and overall nihilistic tendencies, perhaps best expressed by the image of television sets seen playing in the corner of rooms, but all you see is the flicker of constant snow on the screen. “If only politics and poetry could be united,” Wilhelm wonders at one point, to which Laertes responds, “That would mean the end of longing, and the end of the world.” Wilhelm abandons his friends and heads for the other side of the country, finally seen standing atop Zugspitze, the tallest mountain in Germany, still waiting for some insight, like a Buddhist revelation of enlightenment, but in the end, despite the poetic ruminations, he has come to learn very little about himself. Despite the intellectual pursuits, there’s not much that resembles an actual road movie, instead feeling more like an existential journey through the abyss.