Wrong Move (1975)

Wrong Move (1975), directed by Wim Wenders.

A young man wants to be a writer but doesn't know what to write about. He takes a road trip through Germany to find himself, starting from his home in a North Sea port town and ending in the mountains at the southern tip of the country. Because he is cold and doesn't like people, of course he picks up an assortment of characters along the way:

As happens in real life, the travelers wax philosophical, although real people seldom speak in such well-formed paragraphs. They seem to need to find a philosophy of life before really living, which perhaps makes more sense on the Continent than in the Anglo-American tradition. I wasn't able to follow their existential difficulties.

A little romance and a small bit of actual drama: our hero figures out that the old man is a former nazi officer who sings a bitter song about "Rosenthal", which from this and Grand Illusion (1937) I figure is an antisemitic typical Jewish name in Europe. I think another character -- "Landau" -- is also a Jew and the old man gives him the evil eye.

The ex-nazi sleeps with a whip for self-flagellation but that doesn't stop our hero from regarding him with murderous intent.

People traveling, discoursing on imponderables: doesn't sound very interesting, does it? I'm strangely fond of it, perhaps because decades ago I worked my way through the early Wim Wenders shelf at Blockbuster Video and remember them all. Of course, I never really saw these when limited to videotape; the Criterion Blu-ray is a revelation by comparison.

Mostly I love the look of the production and the story of how it was made. Robby Müller, the director's usual photographer, produces something much like his work for The American Friend (1977). No storyboards, a tiny crew on the road making up the shots day by day. The images have a fast, unplanned, non-arty look but are still beautifully composed. They had a complete script this time.

A favorite sequence: a long walk up a mountain road to an overlook above the Rhine. As they walk and talk we see the way they have come in a series of extended takes. Their "dolly" was the director's Renault 4 which everyone not in front of the camera had to push, giving a fluid, pre-Steadicam look.

All natural sound, no dialogue looping. Very little extra lighting. No sets. Jürgen Knieper's discordant score is strangely ominous.

About Nastassja Kinski:

Available on Criterion Blu-ray. The director's commentary is from 2002: fond, sometimes sparse. He marvels at how he and his crew worked back then.