We all love Paris,Texas and Wings of Desire. Ask any film aficionado about European cinema and nine times out of ten, Wim Wenders will pop up as an auteur of choice. But as fond as I am of these two classic films, there’s another one which preceded these that’s also wonderful: Alice In The Cities.
Released in 1974, the film shares many themes with the two other Wenders classics: outsider status; looking for connection, the family as problematic , if not dysfunctional, and, ultimately, an uncertain road trip with an ambivalent denouement.It’s typically poignant and lovely.
Rudiger Vogler plays Phillip Winter, a writer who doesn’t seen to have been doing much writing of late. Drifting somewhat, the lanky, floppy haired man is seeking some form of inspiration. When travelling, he meets Lisa (Lisa Kreuzer) an enigmatic young mother with a young daughter called Alice (Yella Rottlander).
So far, so meet cute. But suddenly, Lisa disappears, leaving Phillip with more than deadlines to contend with. So begins a strange European road trip with Phillip fully immersed in a substitute father role he didn’t sign up for.
It’s the dynamic between the chaotic Phillip and confused young Alice that roots the film in a kind of awkward ping -pong. Alice, having a feckless mother, in essence has to parentify herself but doesn’t have the means; Phillip is pretty childlike himself in many ways. Wenders ‘ naturalistic script is tender but unsentimental, with plenty of wry humour and observations that humans are pretty useless and stubborn, regardless of age.
The main character, arguably, is not Alice, nor is it Phillip, but rather, the vast expanse of German land. Phillip and Alice, like Travis and Hunter a few years later, travel across land that is quotidian, grey, unremarkable. Wenders doesn’t believe in prettifying places, but rather, presenting snapshots of people just trying to get by, thrown into difficult circumstances. This is what makes him a humane filmmaker. His eye is kind, and lucid.