Wrong Move (Falsche Bewegung)

Wrong Move
(Falsche Bewegung)
Director: Wim Wenders
Screenplay: Peter Handke (based on the novel Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)
Stars: Rüdiger Vogler (Wilhelm), Hans Christian Blech (Laertes), Hanna Schygulla (Therese Farner), Nastassja Kinski (Mignon), Peter Kern (Bernhard Landau), Ivan Desny (The Industrialist), Marianne Hoppe (The Mother), Lisa Kreuzer (Janine), Adolf Hansen (Schaffner)
MPAA Rating: NR
Year of Release: 1975
Country: West Germany
Wrong Move Criterion Collection Blu-Ray
Wrong MoveWrong Move (Falsche Bewegung), the middle film in director Wim Wenders’s loose “Road Trilogy,” is everything that the trilogy’s first and best film, Alice in the Cities (1974), is not. Whereas the earlier film was sweet, naturalistic, and dramatically convincing in a way that seemed effortless, Wrong Move is arch and self-consciously arty in its depiction of alienated characters, none of whom feel like flesh-and-blood human beings.

The disjunction between the two films could be explained partially by the fact that Wenders had no hand in writing Wrong Move. Rather the screenplay was penned by novelist Peter Handke as a loose adaptation of Goethe’s 1795 bildungsroman Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship that effectively rejected the novel’s romantic notion of finding oneself via a journey into the world (the “wrong move” of the title is arguably the protagonist’s decision to undertake a journey of self-discovery, an effort inherently doomed by the film’s pessimism). Handke, who Wenders has described as his oldest friend, had previously adapted his own novel for the director’s second feature film, The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick (1972), and he later co-wrote Wenders’s 1987 masterpiece Wings of Desire, a film much closer to the director’s cinematic sensibilities, which is both visually poetic and emotionally resonant. Wrong Move, while sometimes poetic, is emotionally distant, and as a result doesn’t feel like so many of Wenders’s best films.

As with the other films in the “Road Trilogy,” Wrong Move takes the form of a journey, this one undertaken by Wilhelm (Rüdiger Vogler), an aspiring writer who feels frustrated and existentially trapped living in his mother’s apartment in Glückstadt, which sits at the northernmost border of West Germany (one of his first actions in the film is breaking a window with his bare fist). With his mother’s blessing, he leaves for Bonn, where he plans to pursue the writer’s life, although he questions whether he is capable of being one since he dislikes people so much. Along the way he meets and joins together with a motley assortment of fellow travellers, including Therese (Hanna Schygulla), a beautiful actress; Laertes (Hans Christian Blech), an elderly grifter and former Olympic athlete (and Nazi), and Mignon (Nastassja Kinski in her film debut), the young, mute girl with whom he is travelling; and Bernhard (Peter Kern), a goofy, would-be Austrian poet. Bernhard tells them he has a wealthy uncle who lives in castle overlooking the Rhine, but they wind up in the wrong house where they meet and stay with a suicidal industrialist (Ivan Desny).

Unlike the journey structure in Alice in the Cities, the journey in Wrong Move is overtly symbolic, as Wilhelm attempts to discover himself via his interactions with all the characters, none of whom feels like an actual person, but rather a stand-in for some human quality and/or social reality. Much of the film is given over to weighty conversations, and while the dialogue often has a lilting beauty and truth to it, it rarely sounds like people talking, which gives the film a sense of artificiality that could be justified as self-conscious distanciation reflecting the characters’ own sense of alienation, but still makes for a wearisome viewing experience. It doesn’t help that Wilhelm, the film’s ostensible emotional core, feels so hollow. Vogler, who has appeared in 10 of Wenders’ films (he plays the lead in all three films in the Road Trilogy), has a shaggy likeability that is largely wasted here in favor of existential moping.

As a historical object, Wrong Move is intriguing in its psycho-social mapping of West Germany. Unlike so many German filmmakers at the time, Wenders (and the other members of the so-called New German Cinema) was willing to take on his country’s dark past, which gives Wrong Move its most dramatically resonant moments. The conversation in which Laertes confesses to his Nazi past has a real sense of emotional power, especially in the way it reminds us of how even the most seemingly benign old man may harbor a terrible past. By the time the various characters are parting ways and Wilhelm is making his symbolic ascent to the snowy top of the Zugspitze in the south of Germany, it is clear that the film’s moments of insight have been largely outweighed by its dour tone and unrelenting focus on the largely unsympathetic and unconvincing characters’ inabilities to connect and make sense of themselves.

Wrong Move Criterion Collection Blu-Ray
Wim Wenders: The Road Trilogy Blu-Ray BoxsetAlice in the Cities is available exclusively as a part of the three-disc “Wim Wenders: The Road Trilogy” boxset, which also includes Alice in the Cities (1974) and Kings of the Road (1976).
Aspect Ratio1.66:1
AudioGerman DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround
Subtitles English
SupplementsAlice in the Cities
  • Audio commentary by director Wim Wenders and actors Rüdiger Vogler and Yella Rottländer
  • New interviews with Vogler, Rottländer, and actor Lisa Kreuzer
  • Outtakes from the film
  • “Restoring Time,” a 2015 short about the restoration work done by the Wim Wenders Foundation
  • Same Player Shoots Again (1967) and Silver City Revisited (1968), two newly restored early short films by Wenders

    Wrong Move

  • Audio commentary by director Wim Wenders
  • New interview with Wenders, directed and conducted by filmmaker Michael Almereyda
  • New interviews with actors Rüdiger Vogler and Lisa Kreuzer
  • Super 8 footage from the film’s production

    Kings of the Road

  • Audio commentary by director Wim Wenders
  • Outtakes from the film
  • New interviews with actors Rüdiger Vogler, Hanns Zischler, and Lisa Kreuzer
  • DistributorThe Criterion Collection
    Release DateMay 31, 2016

    All three films in Criterion’s “Wim Wenders: The Road Trilogy” boxset feature new 4K transfers that were commissioned by the Wim Wenders Foundation with help from the German Federal Film Board and supervised by Wenders himself. As none of the films were given significant theatrical distribution in the U.S. during the 1970s and have never been released on DVD in Region 1, this is a major moment for American fans of Wenders’s cinema. Each of the transfers was sourced from the best available elements. Alice in the Cities was transferred from the original 16mm negative, which had sustained serious damage and deterioration from years of printing to the point that some sequences had to be replaced with a 35mm duplicate negative that was made in 1988 (although I could never tell which was which); Wrong Move and Kings of the Road were both transferred from the original 35mm negatives. All three films were given extensive digital restoration and color correction in 2K, which has them looking probably better than they have since they first premiered in the ’70s. Alice in the Cities looks quite a bit different from the other two films, mainly because it was shot on 16mm, so it has a grainier, more textured look. Wrong Move is the only color film in the set, and the transfer nicely replicates the relatively subdued hues of Robby Müller’s cinematography. Kings of the Road is probably the best looking of the three; its 35mm black-and-white cinematography is beautifully transferred with sharp detail and excellent contrast. It is also the darkest film in the set, with several scenes shot in near darkness (all three films used primarily source and natural lighting). The soundtrack for each film was transferred from the 17.5 mm magnetic tracks and were digitally restored. Wrong Move and Kings of the Road were both remixed into 5.1-channel surround while Alice was kept in its original monaural mix. For the surround mixes, the primary beneficiary is the music, which is given substantial heft and spaciousness in the multi-channel mix. All of them sound quite good, especially given the rough, low-fi nature of the productions and the heavy use of source sound.
    This boxset has been a long time coming and has been heavily anticipated for years, and I don’t think any Wenders fans will be anything short of elated at the supplements Criterion has put together. Each film has a dedicated audio commentary. Alice in the Cities’ German-language commentary features director Wim Wenders and actors Rüdiger Vogler and Yella Rottländer; Wrong Move and Kings of the Road both feature a solo track by Wenders, with the former being in English and the latter being in German. The Alice in the Cities disc also includes a half-hour featurette of interviews with Vogler, Rottländer, and actor Lisa Kreuzer; 16 minutes of silent outtakes from the film; “Restoring Time,” a short documentary about the restoration work done by the Wim Wenders Foundation; and two of Wenders’s early 16mm short films, Same Player Shoots Again (1967) and Silver City Revisited (1968), both of which have been recently restored. The Wrong Move Blu-ray includes a new interview with Wenders that was conducted by filmmaker Michael Almereyda and runs for more than an hour, as well as new video interviews with Vogler and Kreuzer (22 min.) and four minutes of silent Super 8 footage from the film’s production. Finally, the Kings of the Road disc includes 21 minutes of silent outtakes from the film and a half-hour featurette that includes interviews with Vogler, Kreuzer, and actor Hanns Zischler.

    Copyright ©2016 James Kendrick

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    Overall Rating: (2)

    James Kendrick

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