3 posts categorized "New German Cinema"

March 26, 2017


Mutter_kusters_fahrt_zum_himmelFassbinder is the German version of Lou Reed if Lou had been a German filmmaker.

Although the version of “Mother Kusters Goes to Heaven” currently being shown on FilmStruck does a fake-you-out move by spelling out, and including, two different endings, this movie presents a compelling case for autonomy of the individual. In an age when the NSA utilizes the same data that social media crunches to decide the plot of the next Hollywood movie you sit through like a hungry cat sniffing fresh tuna in the air, “Mother Kusters” puts the media, politics, and familial trust in same trash bin. Brigitte Mira’s elderly matriarch is a postfeminist every bit as complex as the outsider character she played in Fassbinder’s “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul.” Heaven is what you make it.


Not Rated. 108 mins. (A) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)

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October 16, 2013


Paris, TexasWim Wenders’s films encompass the rebellious nature of the New German cinema movement, and its maturing explorations into various narrative forms. Initially drawn to creating pensive road movies as variations on an ever expanding theme, Wenders’s early career took off in 1970 with “Summer in the City,” a 16-mm black-and-white college graduation film project about a freshly released ex-con searching for purpose and security in his new life of relative physical, if not psychological, freedoms. A soundtrack of rock ‘n’ roll music that prominently featured The Kinks played heavily into filling out Wenders’s unhurried storyline. It would take another 14 years before Wenders would arrive at the film that would most clearly define him as a filmmaker in love with American mythologies and displaced characters — this time with an equally haunting score [composed and performed by Ry Cooder).

Written by Sam Shepherd, and adapted by L.M. Kit Carson, the linear story for “Paris, Texas” contains the hallmarks of Shepherd’s characteristic dramatic themes of brotherly relationships and of fatherhood as a metaphor for man’s quest for personal identity. In his first leading role, Harry Dean Stanton plays Travis, a lost soul out of time. His portrayal is tremendous. We first see Travis walking in Terlingua, a barren and dusty region of Texas close to the Rio Grande. He wears a filthy suit and tie, along with a ragged red baseball cap that adds another anachronistic aspect to this odd emaciated man traversing a landscape made famous in Westerns created by John Ford and Howard Hawks. Indeed, the narrative shares something in common with Ford’s 1956 film “The Searchers,” about a cowboy (John Wayne) on a journey to rescue his niece from an Indian tribe.

After collapsing from dehydration on a gas station floor, the temporarily voiceless Travis is reunited with his brother Walt Henderson (played by Dean Stockwell in one of his finest performances). Four years have passed since Walt and his wife Anne (Aurore Clément) took responsibility for raising Travis’s young son Hunter (Hunter Carson) after an ugly split between Walt and his much younger wife Jane (Nastassja Kinski). Jane sends monthly checks to the Hendersons from a bank in Houston. Although initially happy to see Travis after thinking him dead, Anne worries that her husband’s emotionally injured brother will develop a bond with Hunter, and take the child away from she and Walt.

Paris  Texas

Wenders takes advantage of cinematographer Robby Müller’s poetic visual sense to contextualize the characters’ sense of looming, present, and past loss. Wide shot vistas of flat landscapes in Texas give way to Los Angeles’s hazy highways. Road sign billboards and neon-lit logos simultaneously mock and invite an American culture made up of hard edges.

Through perseverance Travis wins Hunter’s trust and respect. Together, father and son set out to find Jane, the matriarchal and maternal figure both desire. When Travis finally finds Jane, she works in a sex club where he can only speak to her by telephone through a two-way mirror. The artificially imposed atmosphere of segregated intimacy facilitates a candid conversation between Travis and Jane that finally enables him to act in the best interest for his family.


Rated R. 147 mins. (A+) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)

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March 04, 2013

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul — CLASSIC FILM PICK

Ali- Fear Eats the SoulRainer Werner Fassbinder was a prodigy, the most prolific member of the New German Cinema movement, which made its mark from the late '60s through the early '80s despite his short career. By the time he died in 1982 at the of age 37, Fassbinder had made 40 features and written two dozen stage plays.

Fassbinder shot “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul” (1974) during a 15-day gap between two other films he was working on, “Martha “ and “Effi Briest.” Douglas Sirk’s “All That Heaven Allows” (1955) provided the inspiration for the story of a blossoming relationship between an older woman and a younger man. For Fassbinder, disparate nationalities contribute to a social chasm that challenges the relationship.

The themes of social oppression and racist attitudes define the unconventional relationship at the heart of this film. Germany’s national identity is swept up in the ideologies of generations traumatized by the legacy of Nazism.
Emmi, a 60-year-old widow and cleaning woman, (Brigitte Mira) dreams of eating at “Hitler’s favorite restaurant.” She enters a bar where the unusual sound of Arabic music piques her curiosity. A weathered Teutonic blonde barmaid (Katharina Herberg) contemptuously serves Emmi a soft drink. Ali (El Hedi ben Salem), a thirty-something Moroccan auto mechanic, takes up a challenge from his fellow barflys to dance with this interloper to their enclave. Fassbinder’s peeking camera captures the couple’s formalized introduction as they talk while dancing to a German song on the jukebox. German and Arabic patrons observe the couple with stern judgment; their contempt serves only to incite the budding romance.

In describing his experience living in Germany, Ali tells Emmi, “Germans with Arabs not good. German master. Arab dog.”

Emmi, too subsists on the bottom rung of a rigid social pecking order. Her busybody neighbors rally to have the landlord evict Ali after he moves into Emmi’s apartment. Emmi’s adult children also try to block her quest for happiness. But seeds of xenophobia also exist in Emmi’s and Ali’s subconscious minds. Social pressure is everywhere. Two of the film’s defining scenes — there are others as well — expose the influence of Ali and Emmi's peers upon how they interact with one another.

Emmi treats Ali like an animal in a petting zoo when her neighbors arrive to check him out. She invites them to feel his muscles, an invitation the two women are only too happy to accept. Emmi attributes Ali’s grumpy departure from this untoward scene to his “foreign mentality.”

When Emmi shows up at Ali’s auto shop the next day to confront him for not returning home the night before, he makes no effort to stand up for her to his insulting co-workers.

“Ali: Fear Eats the Soul” is a timeless examination of the insidious effects of prejudice and racism on relationships. There is no oversimplification in Emmi’s realization that she and Ali must be “nice to each other” when they are together because “otherwise, life’s not worth living.”

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