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The dead souls of Germany
A UK region 2 DVD review of THE WRONG MOVE / FALSCHE BEWEGUG
from Anchor Bay's Wim Wenders Collection by Slarek
 
"I've never amounted to much. I hope it will stay that way."
Benhard Landau

 

Wilhelm is going nowhere. Mind you, he's not exactly trying to go anywhere, or even thinking of trying. He quite fancies being a writer but just can't get it together to actually write anything. Fed up with his attitude, his mother buys him a train ticket to Bonn and encourages him to go off and see something of life. He accepts the offer. Why not? On the train he meets an old man with a nosebleed named Laertes and his silent young female companion Mignon and ends up paying for their tickets and their dinner. On reaching their destination, the three lodge at the same hotel, where they are joined by Therese, a woman Wilhelm was previously watching from the train window, a well known actress who passed her phone number to him via a train guard. A brief discussion on poetry in the hotel dining room attracts the interest of Austrian guest Bernhard, who follows and joins the group.

OK, let's stop here. It's unlikely that any of the above is going to convince you that The Wrong Move [Falsche Bewegung] is a must-see or even, if you're feeling ungenerous, of any particular interest. But then this is not a film where plot is of real importance, so descriptions of such are not that revealing. Wilhelm's journey is defined by his encounters and interaction with others, not by what he does or, for the most part, where he goes. An exception to this has Bernhard invite the group to a country house owned by his uncle, only to realise he's at the wrong place. This turns out not to be a problem because the owner invites them to stay anyway, their timely arrival having disrupted his suicide attempt, and the home becomes a decaying externalisation of the group's weary world view.

Collectively the group is representative of a widespread disenchantment particular to post-WW2 Germany, and how completely you connect with the characters and their many discussions will depend in part on your awareness of the reference points contained within. Certainly I can make no claims here of total appreciation of what some German reviews I've read have immediately recognised and responded to. None are obviously spelt out but are intriguingly alluded to, with Laertes' long-delayed back story probably the easiest for outsiders to comprehend and process, though even then detail is kept deliberately light.

And yet it all remains curiously involving, and I do mean curiously, as nothing about the main characters is instantly appealing beyond their 'what's going on here?' enigma, a question that the film never really answers. And despite his age (he appears to be in his early thirties), Wilhelm's sense of alienation from society is one many will recognise from their own teenage years, and perhaps beyond. It's that odd affinity that appears to provide the hook to stay with him and see the world largely through though his eyes, while his refusal to commit to anyone or anything in particular at times feels like a peculiar kind of nihilistic freedom.

Amiably played by Rüdiger Vogler, who had previously worked with Wenders on The Goalkeeper's Fear of the Penalty [Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter] (1972) and The Scarlet Letter [Der Scharlachrote Buchstabe] (1973), and starred in his previous film Alice in the Cities [Alice in den Städten] (1974), Wilhelm is a magnet for like-minded souls, drawn to each other for no other purpose than to engage in discussion on a world that none of them seem to be comfortable with. Indeed, there was a point midway through where I wondered if I was watching people who had died and were caught in limbo, walking the earth and philosophising on what they had lost, a notion dispelled by a discovery that could almost have been written to deliberately snap me out of that supposition.

At the journey's end it is uncertain if Wilhelm has learned anything or changed his world view, despite his briefly upbeat response to a request to film a pair of tourists who mimic the skills of his departed companions. This does suggest an autobiographical element on Wenders' part, a man disconnected from a world in which he feels wrongly placed but who briefly finds purpose through the lens of a movie camera. In this respect the film accurately reflects its time, capturing the directionless nihilism that many of us experienced in the 1970s, which could well prove a barrier for an audience regularly bombarded with the current Just Do It bullshit of corporate optimism.

The Wong Move is certainly not a crowd pleaser, and to many it will feel as aimless and rambling as its central character. But as someone who did not get many of the cultural references that some reviewers have revelled in, I was nonetheless consistently engaged by the characters, their conversations, the performances (including a screen debut of a 14-year-old Nastassja Kinski as the silent Mignon), by Robby Müller's typically fine cinematography (the long tracks as the group walk and talk up a hillside are particularly memorable), and by the feeling that Wilhelm's journey is one that I long ago embarked on myself and that, in some small but recognisable way, have been walking ever since.

sound and vision

Anamorphic 1.77:1, this is another fine transfer from a very good source print for Anchor Bay's box set, with no complaints at all about colour, contrast or detail. Once again some sources suggest an original aspect ratio of 1.66:1, but there is no obvious sign of picture cropping.

The mono Dolby 2.0 track is also available as 5.1, but apart from some of the music being pushed around the soundstage, and even then only a bit, this is essentially the same track, with the sound centrally located rather than spread across the front speakers.

extra features

Nope. The commentary on the US release is, of course, missing, and would be a welcome addition.

summary

Regarded as a masterpiece by some, The Wrong Move is a film it took me time to warm to, and even then not one I felt the immediate need to re-watch (although doing so did clarify some, though not all, of the cultural references that I missed the first time round). But it's still an intriguing film that captures a mood and attitude that was not confined to 1970s Germany, and will no doubt completely bemuse a sizeable portion of the information-age audience, and certainly piss off anyone looking for a fast moving tale with twisty plots and traditional character arcs. Once again the transfer does the film proud, but the lack of a commentary leaves us pining for what should have been.

The Wrong Move
Falsche Bewegung
The Wim Wenders Collection

West Germany 1975
99 mins
director
Wim Wenders
starring
Rüdiger Vogler
Hans Christian Blech
Hanna Schygulla
Nastassja Kinski
Peter Kern

DVD details
region 2
video
1.77:1 anamorphic
sound
Dolby 2.0 mono
Dolby 5.1 surround
languages
German
subtitles
English
extras
none
distributor
Anchor Bay
release date
26 March 2007
review posted
24 March 2007

The Wim Wenders Collection
The Scarlet Letter
The Wrong Move
The American Friend
Lightning Over Water
Room 666
Paris, Texas
Tokyo-Ga
Notebook on Cities and Clothes
A Trick of the Light

See all of Slarek's reviews