Monday, 23 November 2015

Kings of the Road (4 Stars)

This is a German film made in 1976 by Wim Wenders. The original title is "Im Lauf der Zeit", which means "As time goes by". The title of the English language release was presumably changed to let people know it's a road movie.

The film was shown at the Mac cinema in Birmingham today as part of the Flatpack festival. A new digital transfer should have been shown, but the event's host apologised at the beginning that the American distributor didn't send him the film on time, so we had to watch the DVD version. At first I groaned, but I was pleasantly surprised by how good the film looked on a big screen.

"Kings of the Road" is about a man who is travelling from north to south Germany, from village to village along the western side of the Wall separating the two Germanies, repairing projection equipment in small cinemas. At the beginning he picks up a hitch-hiker who has survived a suicide attempt and then doesn't mind where he goes. As the film progresses the two men become friends.

Supposedly, only the opening scene where the two men meet one another was scripted. The rest of the film was improvised as the cast and crew drove southwards. The film production itself was one big road movie, and they never knew where they would be next. 30 hours of film was shot, which Wim Wenders compressed to three hours for the final release.

Does the film have a message? Though others might disagree with me, I wouldn't say there is a message that the director wants us to take with us from the film, but there are themes that he presents side by side. One theme is separation. The truck driver (Bruno) is a loner, living on the road without any friends. The hitch-hiker (Robert) has just left his wife, and he also has a broken relationship with his father. Then, of course, there's the separation of the two Germanies.

Another theme is the decline of cinema. The mid-1970's marked a decline in cinema attendance, in Germany and the rest of the world. We see cinemas in poor condition with poorly trained staff. The decline is also credited to the type of films being shown in cinemas. The 1970's are well known for the emergence of the so-called New German Cinema, with directors such as Rainer Fassbinder, Werner Herzog and Wim Wenders himself. What people forget is that these directors rarely had commercial success, despite being highly praised by critics. The films most popular in Germany in the 1970's in Germany were the Bavarian erotic comedies, the pseudo sex education films (such as the Schoolgirl Report films) and the Simmel films, trashy romantic dramas. Wim Wenders openly criticises the Bavarian erotic comedies in "Kings of the Road", but I have to contradict him; they were very good films, an art form in themselves.

One other theme, which Wim Wenders deals with in more detail in his later film "Until the End of the World", is the contrast between words and pictures. Robert's father owns a small newspaper and is able to print a newspaper himself. Bruno's world revolves around the pictures on the cinema screen.

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