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ALICE IN THE CITIES (Alice in den Städten)(director/writer: Wim Wenders; screenwriter: Veith von Furstenberg; cinematographers: Robby Muller/Martin Schafer; editor: Pater Przyodda; music: Can; cast: Rüdiger Volger (Philip Winter), Yella Rofflander (Alice Van Dam), Elisabeth Kreuzer (Lisa Van Dam), Chuck Berry (Himself); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Joachim von Mengershausen; Bauer International; 1974-West Germany-in German with English subtitles)
“It takes a long time for Wenders to get where he wants to go but it’s worth the wait… .”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Wim Wenders (“Until the End of the World”/”The American Friend”/”Wings of Desire”) observes in his quirky black and white road movie the following cities-New York, Amsterdam, Wuppertal, Essen, Duisburg, Oberhausen and Gelsenkirchen. He does it through the eyes of a world-weary laconic anti-hero protagonist, the German photo-journalist Philip (Rüdiger Volger), and an inquisitive nine-year-old testy well-traveled abandoned German girl named Alice (Yella Rofflander), who was forced into his care. It’s the first of Wenders’ trilogy of travel films (followed by Wrong Move-1975 and Kings Of The Road-1976) that take place in America (at least for some part) and it covers his familiar themes of angst, alienation and America’s cultural deprivation and sometimes wrong-headed cultural influence on the world.

The 31-year-old Philip Winter (Rüdiger Volger) is the disenchanted loner photo-journalist returning to his New York City based publisher with plenty of Polaroid photos but without a story after touring the wide-open American countryside for four weeks and is told by the publisher in no uncertain terms that he messed up by missing the deadline to publish a story about America and won’t get paid until he delivers the story. The weary Philip finds out he can’t get a direct flight to Germany because of a pilot strike and settles on taking a next day flight to Amsterdam. Acting as a translator for a German woman named Lisa (Elisabeth Kreuzer) and her nine-year-old daughter Alice, also at the terminal, the English speaking Philip gets them booked on the same flight. When Lisa decides to stay behind and try to settle things with her estranged hubby and Alice’s stepfather, nice guy Philip is stuck flying with Alice to Amsterdam. Mom, who was supposed to show up the next day but doesn’t, sticks Philip with the kid. He forms a love/hate relationship with her and rents a car to search for the girl’s granny throughout the backwaters of Germany even though Alice doesn’t know granny’s last name or address, and later we find out not even the city where she lives. Their interesting relationship serves as the heart of the film, as both man and girl are viewed as lost souls who discover they can’t let go of each other even though they both realize how inarticulate and bewildered they are over their predicament. It ends with an Ozu-like aerial shot of the pair on a train bound for Munich to meet her mom.

Since most rational folks would have dropped the selfish little girl off at the police station and not bothered waiting for the self-absorbed negligent mom to show up, the leisurely told story becomes both gently amusing and slightly frustrating as Philip searches for his muse, the girl for granny (family ties) and Wenders tries to uncover what makes America such a spoiled country and how similar modern Europe has become to America. Wenders observes TV has taken a grip on Americans and it seems not only are there endless commercials but the programs themselves are commercials for the status quo.

It takes a long time for Wenders to get where he wants to go but it’s worth the wait, as he delivers a low-key commentary without being preachy or sentimental about the ills of American consumerism becoming world-wide and the terror present in dealing with one’s loneliness.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”