Mar 15, 2014
German auteur Wim Wenders (Paris, Texas, Wings of Desire) has surely directed a number of long and plodding films about seemingly nothing aside from moody and broody protagonists suffering from some sort of half-hearted (and sometimes seemingly half-autistic) existential crisis and, of course, some of these films are better than others, with Falsche Bewegung (1975) aka The Wrong Move aka Wrong Movement—the second film in the director’s ‘Road Movie Trilogy’ (following Alice in the Cities (1974) and preceding Kings of the Road (1976)) shot by Robby Müller—being one of the filmmaker’s most palatable works. Indeed, aside from being one of my favorite Wenders flicks, The Wrong Move also happens to be one of the auteur filmmaker’s most discernibly Teutonic works as a loose adaptation of Goethe's second novel Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship (1795-1796) aka Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, as well as a work slowly but surely boiling in post-Auschwitz angst. Indeed, a work about a young German writer suffering from writer’s block who states regarding an old ex-nazi he befriends, “My aimless rage was directed at the old man. I used his past as an excuse to myself,” The Wrong Move depicts an emotionally, socially, spiritually, and culturally detached people with an incapacity for mourning and who thus wander aimlessly along like zombies in a Fatherland that no longer has fathers. Sort of in the passively morbid ‘anti-Heimat’ meets Hitchcock spirit of Wenders’ second feature Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter (1972) aka The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, which was also penned by Slovene-Austrian novelist Peter Handke, The Wrong Move is about a rarely likeable prick of a Weltschmerz-wracked protagonist who finds it rather hard to find inspiration for his writing, so he goes on a soul-searching journey for inspiration and psychological liberation (he is a momma’s boy and his mommy is an oppressive yet wealthy wench), ultimately running into a motley crew of curious characters who test his humanity (or lack thereof) and influence him to make the ‘wrong moves.’
Wilhelm Meister (Rüdiger Vogler) is a bitchy German boy from Glückstadt in Nordic Schleswig-Holstein, West Germany, who has so much pent up angst that he scares some old folks by nonsensically smashing his hand threw his window in broad daylight. Unquestionably, Wilhelm takes after his discernibly bitchy Mother (played by bisexual Nazi era actress Marianne Hoppe). When Mommy dearest decides to sell the family supermarket, she gives Wilhelm some money and tells him to travel, with his journey taking him to Bonn in North Rhine-Westphalia. When boarding the train, Wilhelm notices a beauteous blonde actress named Therese (Fassbinder diva Hanna Schygulla) who, like him, reflects the contemporary generation of Germany, which is lost and is constantly searching for something, but what that certain something is they cannot seem to figure out. While on the train, Wilhelm starts a rocky friendship with an old street musician named Laertes (Hans Christian Blech), who confesses he ran the 100-yard dash in the 1936 Nazi Olympics and that he, like Uncle Adolf, would not have shaken the hand of American Negro Jesse Owens had he been given the chance. Laertes reflects the old generation of Germans as an unreformed National Socialist who is now without identity, purpose, and home, thus he wanders from place to place. With Laertes is a mute and seemingly dumb teen girl named Mignon (Nastassja Kinski in what was her first film role), who reflects contemporary German youth due to her being deaf and dumb. Wilhelm also catches the attention of an exceedingly effete and overweight Austrian poet-bum named Bernhard Landau (Peter Kern), who writes decadent verses like, “From my terror-stricken stiff member there shot sperm and dripped upon a white sheet” and proudly confesses regarding his life, “I’ve never amounted to much and hope I’ll stay that way. I get injured once a year. This year I fell on the edge of a chair and gashed the corners of my mouth. It’s healed up already.” After walking aimlessly around a neighborhood in Frankfurt, Bernhard offers to take his friends to stay at his Uncle’s castle, but when they arrive, they find not the poet’s uncle but an industrialist (Ivan Desny) who is about to blow his brains out with a shotgun.
Somewhat strangely (and, in my opinion, darkly humorously) the suicidal Industrialist warmly welcomes his strange guests and describes how his wish for death is a consequence of his wife committing suicide not long ago. After an insightful chat with the Industrialist about “loneliness in Germany,” Wilhelm goes in a dark room to have sex with Therese, but discovers mute Lolita Mignon instead and gives her a small smack across the face. The next day, everyone goes on a walk except for the Industrialist and Laertes reveals to Wilhelm that he was a concentration camp guard who killed Jews, stating, “I saved some Jews, if they were professionally qualified.” When Wilhelm and his friends go back to the castle, they discover the Industrialist has committed suicide via hanging. From there, the crew of new wandering friends begins to fall apart and move with “idiotic panic,” with Bernhard being the first one to leave. Among other things, Wilhelm comes close to killing Laertes after threatening to drown him in a lake due to his Nazi past and the writer is later confronted by Therese, who makes him the following ultimatum, “Help me, or leave me, Wilhelm! It’s disgusting the way everything leaves you cold,” and proceeds to physically assault him, destroying some of his melancholy writings in the process. In the end, Laertes leaves all by his lonesome, Therese and Mignon head to Italy with one another, and Wilhelm travels by himself to the very bottom of Southern Germany. While standing on the snowy Wetterstein Mountains in Zugspitze, Wilhelm contemplatively states to himself, “I told Therese I intended to stay in Germany…because I knew too little to write about it. It was only an excuse. I really just wanted so much to live my stupid life alone. I was waiting for an experience like a miracle. But there was no snowstorm. Why had I run away, why wasn’t I back there with the others? Why did I threaten the old man instead of listening to his tale? I felt I had missed out somehow…and was still missing out with every new movement.”
A decided downer of a movie that only a seasoned cultural pessimist could love, The Wrong Move might quite possibly be auteur Wim Wenders’ most personally incriminating film, even if the themes are quite typical of his work, albeit with a more discernibly Teutonic tone. In what is unequivocally one of the most insightful, if not the most insightful, scene of The Wrong Movie, the suicidal Industrialist states to protagonist Wilhelm regarding the ‘weakness’ of Germans, “I’d just like to talk a bit…about loneliness in Germany. I think it’s more hidden and…more distressing than elsewhere. Maybe the history of ideas here is responsible…which made people seek a way of life…that could help overcome fear. The propagation of virtues like…courage, fortitude…meant to distract attention from fear. Let’s say it was that way. More than anywhere else philosophy could be used…as an ideology…so that the criminal methods required…to overcome fear could be legalized. Fear was considered vain…and shameful. That’s why loneliness in Germany is…masked by all those revealing soulless faces…that haunt supermarkets, recreation areas…pedestrian zones and fitness-centers. The dead souls of Germany.” After his long spiel, the Industrialist also states, “I refused to overcome fear,” but of course he also committed suicide, thus demonstrating an ‘overcoming of fear’ is what made Germany so strong over the centuries and that succumbing to fear is for quitters. And, of course, angst-addled antihero Wilhelm is also plagued by fear, hence his writer's block, not to mention his innate incapacity for love and friendship. Indeed, it is especially interesting that The Wrong Move concludes with Wilhelm standing on top of a mountain in a scene that recalls German Romantic artist Caspar David Friedrich’s painting Wanderer above the Sea of Fog (1818), albeit with the film scene featuring a much more negative and nihilistic message in its allegorical image of a morbidly introverted man who has built such a large wall dividing himself from other people that it reaches mountainous heights. In one particularly revealing scene, Wenders demonstrates some somewhat naïve optimism for Germany’s future when Wilhelm states to his love interest, “I know I shall love you very much someday, Therese,” but of course the stagnant state of German cinema and kultur, as well as the already abysmal birth rate of the nation, tells this national love never came to be. A post-WWII Goethe adaptation featuring scenes from Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet’s Chronik der Anna Magdalena Bach (1968) aka The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach and featuring more than one reference to suicide, The Wrong Movie is ultimately a depiction of kraut identity at its most pathologically conflicted and thus reveals Wim Wenders, who is ½ Dutch by ancestry, at arguably his most perversely personal. That being said, it should be no surprise that Wenders attempted (and ultimately failed) to trade-in his German identity and become an American filmmaker. Of course, after watching The Wrong Move, I must say that I almost don't blame him, as no one wants to be surrounded by suicidal art-fags like the protagonist of the film.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 10:26 PM
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