Alice in the Cities | Alice in den Stadten) 1974) | Restored and Remastered

December 17th, 2017
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Wim Wenders; Cast: Rüdiger Vogler, Yella Rottländer, Lisa Kreuzer; West Germany 1974, 110’.

ALICE IN THE CITIES was one of a trilogy of early road-movies by German director Wim Wenders, but the first in which found his very personal style. With the glowing b/w images of his regular collaborater and DoP Robby Müller (Paris, Texas), Wenders develops a poetic realism dealing with a psychological conflict in a subtle and often lyrical way.

German journalist Philip Winter (Vogler) has been sent to the US, to write about the daily life on the sub-continent. But he is traumatised by the visit, losing his ability to hear and see. When he finally returns to his newspaper headquarters New York, all he has to offer is some rather personal Polaroid photos. Winter literally flees New York – but is stopped at the airport where flights to Germany are suspended due to a strike. Booking a flight to Amsterdam – the nearest city to Germany – he meets Lisa Van Damm (Kreuzer) and her nine-year old daughter Alice (Rotländer). Lisa has just split up with her husband, and the three spend the night in a hotel – but when Vogler wakes up, he is alone with Alice. Lisa turns out to be an elusive character: she misses two rendezvous’ at the Empire State Building and Amsterdam airport. Winter travels with the girl to Germany to try and look for Alice’ grandmother, a woman called Krüger who lives in Wuppertal. As it turns out, she really lives in Munich, where Lisa has joined her as the police search desperately for Vogler and the young girl.

Vogler is a rather fragile character, like most male protagonists in Wenders’ features before he moved to the US. There is even a hint of gender confusion: Vogler gets on much better with Alice than his girlfriend Angela, and when he finally returns to Germany, life goes back to normal. There are some great shots of the mono-rail train in Wuppertal, and a long scene in a café, where an old-fashioned jukebox is the main attraction, rather than Alice and Vogler, who make an unconventional couple rather reluctant to give up their journey – by now Vogler’s emotional immaturity has put him on the same developmental stage as Alice, who gains confidence in the company of this older man. An Ozu-like helicopter shot of a slowly disappearing train ends a road movie about little sense and much sensibility.

Yella Rottlander is the standout here, as the film’s title suggests. Alice not only dominates Vogler, but the whole feature. She is sometimes capricious, but very much able to adjust to situations and people. Her screen presence is astonishing, and she totally lacks self-consciousness. Vogler’s Winter is a day-dreamer, who loves to get lost: not it’s not only women are an enigma for him. Wenders direct this elegy of two lost souls with great understatement and perceptiveness. The often dreamy images complement the fairy-tale allure of this adventure. AS

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