Alice in the Cities (1974)

Alice in the Cities (1974), directed by Wim Wenders.

A German journalist has not gotten a story he wanted during a road trip across America: he says that once you get outside of New York City it all looks the same. A horrible journey with bad TV and radio and cheap motels. He seems teutonically sour and tends to kick his appliances.

At the airport he helps a German woman and her little girl and keeps them company while waiting for a flight. Mom has to deal with a boyfriend and leaves him a note: "Take Alice to Amsterdam and I'll meet you there". He does but she doesn't. So he and Alice drive around Holland and Germany looking for her grandmother.

Fed up with babysitting he drops her at a police station and goes to an outdoor Chuck Berry concert, which improves his mood. He misses Alice and when they are reunited they continue their journey.

A beautifully made road film. The black-and-white 16mm photography from moving cars and trains tends to make both America and Europe look like ordinary, day-to-day, slightly shabby places. Photographed by Robby Müller. Big grain can be beautiful! Every scene ends with a fade to black.

Could this be made today? The presumption of perversion and sex crime would poison the whole concept. There is no implication of that at all here. Philip instantly becomes Alice's surrogate father and they get on as well as any family, sometimes happy, sometimes fighting. As he becomes used to her she softens him, making him more humane.

The 10-year old Alice acts very naturally and is as complex as any character of her age as I have seen.

Of the cast, only Rüdiger Vogler as Philip and Lisa Kreuzer as the Mom had extensive film careers.

The score is simple and meditative, neither bleak nor jolly. A lot of pop music of the era floats in through the windows.

According to the wikipedia article Wenders had financing for the film when he saw Paper Moon (1973), thought the stories were too similar and wanted to cancel. Director Sam Fuller helped him with a rewrite, saying "Never cancel when you already have the money!"

Available on Blu-ray from Criterion, made from a new scan of the original 16mm negative. The film was originally distributed in 1.37 aspect ratio; the director wanted 1.66 and that is restored here.

Selectable English subtitles only for the German language parts. The commentary track is in German -- a conversation between the director and Yella Rottländer who played Alice -- and also has selectable English subtitles.