(director/writer: Werner Herzog; cinematographer: Thomas Mauch; editor: Beate Mainka-Jellinghaus; cast:  (Boris S), Eva Mattes (Eva), Clemens Scheitz (Scheitz), Burkhard Driest (Eva’s husband), Pitt Bedewitz (Self), Wilhelm von Homburg (Eva’s pimp), Clayton Szalpinski (Clayton), Ely Rodriguez (Indian Mechanic’s Helper), Vaclav Vojta (Dr. Vaclav Vojta), Bill Wade (auctioneer); Runtime: 108; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Willi Segler; Anchor Bay; 1977-West Germany-in English, German, Turkish)

“A great but really odd film, that’s tender, tragic and funny.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The unique German filmmaker Werner Herzog (“Grizzly Man”/”Fitzcarraldo”) directs and writes this absurdist comedy, a character study of a troubled man in which Herzog described as “a ballad that’s a failed search for individuality.” The noted documentary filmmaker has made a great but really odd film, that’s tender, tragic and funny.

The middle-aged Bruno Stroszek (Bruno S., the amateur actor’s second film for Herzog–he starred in The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser) is released from a Berlin prison and told as a condition of his parole he must stop drinking. He’s a Berlin busker, who survives by playing the accordion on the street.

Bruno, ignoring the warden’s advice, meets in a bar the buxom prostitute Eva (
Eva Mattes). Her abusive husband (Burkhard Driest) and thuggish pimp (Wilhelm von Homburg) beat her. She then moves in with Bruno. Wanting a change of scenery, they decide that winter to go with Bruno’s elderly eccentric neighbor Clemens Scheitz, an amateur scientist, to rural Wisconsin, where he plans on staying with his garage owner nephew Clayton, in the fictionalized town of Railroad Flats (filmed in serial-killer Ed Gein’s poverty-stricken home-town of Plainfield, Wisconsin). Once there, Bruno works as an auto mechanic for Clayton and Eva works as a waitress. They live in a trailer and have a brand-new TV. But their bills pile-up and the bank repossesses the trailer, which is sold off in an auction.

In the climactic scene, Bruno and Eva visit a Native American reservation in South Carolina, where he finds in town an amusement-arcade and watches in astonishment trained dancing miniature chickens perform after putting money in a coin-operated machine.

Their American Dream vanishes, and they’re left disillusioned that not all Americans are rich–while taking swings at how badly America treats its marginalized people.