Kings of the Road (1976)

23 06 2008

A perfect example of that “epic plotlessness” that I love so dearly. This is (more or less) three hours of two guys riding in a truck and then walking around wherever they stop. On occasion, Wenders indulges in a bit too much dialogue, which seems to either be contrived attempts at poetry or minor exposition. Otherwise, this is a an fully realized masterpiece. Almost like an Antonioni film filtered through Wenders’ own vision of loneliness, isolation, and ennui. The events proceed so relaxed and effortlessly but provide revelations so profound and important. Despite the length, this proves to be a perfect introduction into the cinematic world of Wim Wenders.

Bruno drives cross-country as a repairman for projection equipment. He picks up a (unintentional) hitchhiker named Robert Lander, who we soon learn has recently separated himself from his wife. The two rarely talk, but they seem to share a mutual respect for one another. As they drift from town to town, they meet a select cast of eccentric personalities, almost all of which embody the same quiet, poetic sadness as themselves. Robert returns to his childhood home and visits his father, and Bruno attempts a romance with a concession stand worker at a theater. These moments, though fleeting, provide the basis for the narrative.

One of the most immediately noticeable technical aspects here is the gorgeous black and white cinematography courtesy of Robby Müller. Its fitting that it is so similar to Antonioni’s features from the early 60s since Antonioni rather reluctantly had Wenders co-direct Beyond the Clouds. Anyway, the visuals here are stunning regardless of the similarities to other films. The music, though not without its intrusive moments, seems to perfectly compliment the visual strengths. While it has a very “America ’70s” vibe, it still feels somewhat timeless and universal feel as well. There are some pieces that come close to interrupting the power of the images, but, for the most part, the music seems to come up at almost the exactly right time. It tends to come in during these rather odd transition sequences, almost widescreen “pillow shots” which reflect Wenders’ admiration of Yasujiro Ozu. Though, even Ozu, perhaps the greatest of all directors, never got to work with music as good as Improved Sound Limited’s “9 Feet Over the Tarmac.”

As pitch-perfect as all the technical things are here, it is more impressive how depth of the emotional core. The performances here seem to greatly anticipate the performances of Denis Lavant in Leos Carax’s films as well as Lee Kang-sheng in Tsai Ming-Liang’s films. While this “style” of acting (if it can even be called that) has deeper roots with Bresson and (again) Antonioni, it seems come closer to full realization in this film. It probably helps that the principle characters here have a similar type of masculine sensitivity – a very downplayed quiet sadness that is present in both Tsai and Carax’s films. While Wenders never goes as far as to make a romantic relationship the main focus, he does capture the same type of fleeting beauty found in such interactions. That almost in and of itself is enough to proclaim this film as a masterpiece. Of course, the decision is made easier by plenty of other fantastic elements. Pretty much one of the best movies ever.

Kader (2006)

23 06 2008

A very good film, but I’m afraid that much of its details were ultimately lost on me. While it is easy to appreciate the very fragmented / elliptical way in which the story is presented, it is similarly difficult to follow along with so many characters, all of whom seem to look the same. There’s also a fair share of overly-specific plot messyness that does essentially nothing to enhance the real purpose: the up and downs (of which there are many here) of a very complicated relationship. It does provide plenty of pathos and moments of emotional truth, but compared to its thematic brethren, it comes off as a bit too one-note.

Bekir works at the family carpet store as a salesman. Despite his profession, he is incredibly shy. One day, he meets Ugur – a carefree, outgoing girl. In other words, everything he is not. Nonetheless, he still falls for her, but quickly discovers that her bubbly personality is hiding plenty of emotional baggage. She is in love with Zagor, who is imprisoned. He is constantly relocated from one institution to another, but no matter how far it is, Ugur always follows. In the mean time, Bekir fulfills the wishes of his parents and participates in an arranged marriage. He begins to build a family, but he cannot forget Ugur, which leads him to scenarios where both he and his wife experience great amount of personal suffering.

Quickly, the film perfectly sets itself up to be a somewhat light (and/or cute) story about long-time crushes, and the pain and frustration that goes along with it. This is thrown away quite rapidly, and then the film begins to take on its much more “dark” material. While Bekir’s undying love for Ugur is endearing, it also only that. His actions after nervously proclaiming his love for her are completely over the top and uncharacteristic. Perhaps many people like this sort of “character arc” nonsense, but it does seem the least bit realistic. In a way, this is sort of like Citizen Kane in its very conventional rise and fall (and in this case, repeat) sensibility. The problem here is that the filmmakers have obvious aspirations to make this a very profound meditation on human relationships.

Look, all human relationships are complicated beyond our comprehension but they aren’t complicated in the way they are portrayed here. It seems that the very specifics of the plot are the causes of emotional conflicts, which would explain why they are presented so fragmented. It might be somewhat of an exaggeration but this is the sort of like the “complicated relationship” films that Hollywood tries so hard to make but always fails. Don’t get me wrong, this conventional in the least, but whoever wrote it seemed to have a very skewed idea of what causes problems in relationships to begin with. On the other hand, this does make many sequence really great, if one is to take them out of their context. Still, I’d say that Nuri Bilge Ceylan and Semih Kaplanoglu are miles above Zeki Demirkubuz.