Young Torless (1966)

30 06 2008

There is nothing wrong with this film per se, but it is not all that exciting. It is certainly a lot better than Volker Schlöndorff’s woeful Lost Honor of Katharina Blum but as far as I’m concerned nothing really groundbreaking is going here, except for the fact that it was one of the first legimately personal German films in a long time. That’s pretty much the only reason this seems to still be considered relevant. Alexander Kluge made Yesterday Girl only two years later, and that film is about a hundred times more innovative. Still, its hard to write the film off for not being as ahead of its time as its peers. Its nice for what it is worth, but history has exaggerated its accomplishment.

Thomas Torless is sent to a boarding school by his parents. He is the new guy but he manages to fit in rather well. In the mean time, his peer, Basini, does anything but. Its bad enough that his debts begin to pile on, but its worse how he must pay them back. Torless’ friends, Beineberg and Reiting make Basini their slave and violently torture him. Torless wants to help but the peer pressue is too great and he begins to become a helpless observer.

To begin, the main character seems rather boring. Like all of his classmates he worries about how much time he is wasting in such a sterile environment. As this angst festers, Torless begins to fall into every dissatisfied youngster film cliché. His hormones are a-ragin’ but he’s too shy to act them out in quite possibly the film’s brightest moment: Torless and his friend visit the household of a waitress who freely whores herself out. The rest of the film trots along in a rather predictable fashion supported by nothing aesthetically defiant. This not a complete disaster, though. Simply a neat not-so-profound study of teenage angst. The sort of film I may have loved many moons ago, but it feels slightly immature at this point.

Wrong Move (1975)

30 06 2008

Another great effort from Wenders. While it is not quite as fantastic as Kings of the Road, it is certainly in the same ballpark. The nice black and white cinematography is gone and replaced by a rather dull color scheme but it seems, at the very least, that Wenders’ heart is in the right place. Like Kings, this is a wonderful Antonioni-esque road movie. There’s more talking in this case, but its redeemed by a much less eventful narrative. Even though it would come two years later, I can’t help but think of this as something like Stroszek …on the road.

Wilheim, a quiet young man still living with his mother is eager to begin a career as a writer. His mother, always being supportive, buys him a train ticket to Bonn to live life, or perhaps simply provide some writing material. On the train, he meets a nose-bleeding ex-athlete, Laertes, and a teenage mute acrobat, Mignon. Mignon almost immediately takes a liking to Wilheim, but unfortunately, his interest lies with Therese, an actress. Therese and young poet named Bernard eventually join the gang as they confront their feelings on modern alienation, among other topics.

Though it is ultimately not the better film, this does have an even greater focus on loneliness than Kings of the Road. Yes, the characters talk in a flawless manner (not unlike In a Year of 13 Moons, actually) but they at least seem to have trouble completely comprehending their thoughts. In fact, this actually becomes a major topic in some of Wilheim’s conversations. The material is definitely heavy and ponderous, but it comes off naturally. One gets the sense that the characters themselves are coming up with their philosophical prose, as opposed to the filmmakers using them as mouthpieces. Its funny that even though this is not an outright “philosophical” film, it manages to touch upon subjects later expressed more fully in Tarkovsky’s Stalker, which oddly enough, has a very similar visual style.

It’s clearly a matter of taste, but alas, I am not particularly fond of that muddy 70s look, especially when it is quite obvious that Muller and Wenders could produce such fantastic results in black and white. The presence of Hanna Schygulla (her only collaboration with Wenders) may negate these problems. Just like in her earliest Fassbinder role, she has a wonderfully cold detached sensibility. Fitting considering the appearance of a Straub / Huillet film on TV later in the film. Nastassja Kinski is even better and seems like someone out of a Leos Carax film. I suppose this can be dismissed on the account that her character is a mute but that only makes her all the more captivating. She is the perfect neutralizing element for a film that is fairly dry and talky but somehow spontaneous.

In a Year of 13 Moons (1978)

30 06 2008

After watching of pair of quickly composed Fassbinder films (Rio Das Mortes and Pioneers) it was quite nice to watch an effort with a more accomplished visual style. I’m no stranger to late era Fassbinder, but visually this is extremely impressive. In fact, it might be the single best-looking film of his entire career. Where the aforementioned films were more interesting in a narrative sense but crudely put together, this is almost the complete opposite. There’s more than a few overly-long sequences of people speaking far too eloquently about their feelings. I suppose this could be Fassbinder’s Life of Oharu as it is his most visually accomplished feature (just like Oharu is Mizoguchi’s) and while it does tone down the usual amount of Fassbinder melodrama, it is ultimately a bit too downbeat to provoke a particularly strong response.

The opening sequence introduces us to the general tone of not only the film, but Elviria’s life in general. She, formerly a he, goes to find herself a male prostitute for companionship but is beaten and mocked in the process. She returns home to find that her lover, Cristoph, is leaving her. She begs for him to stay, but he violently refuses. She begins to wander around town, meeting up with her pal Zora.

It is at this point in the film that characters begin to nonsensically spout exposition. While the narrative remains riveting, it begins to slow down its pace and starts to rely solely on the monologues for which ever character seems to have within themselves. Thankfully, this is one of Fassbinder’s best photographed films. Perhaps it be a little harsh to say the only saving grace is the cinematography, but in all honesty nothing seems more positive. At the very least, I can respect the film for simply presenting a very personal story but even then, its executed in a rather mundane fashion. Then again, there’s some people who love this but think Love is Colder than Death is mundane and that is probably my favorite Fassbinder. As for this, it is a very accomplished film but essentially too talkative for the rest of the film to reflect the greatness of the visuals.