Alice in the Cities

Though this is universally celebrated as a great film, and a key work in the New German Cinema, the style with which director Wim Wenders tells his story, or rather with which he explores the seemingly miniscule events that stories usually skip, will put off many viewers. The approach has been called temps mort (“dead time”) and the term aptly describes the film’s reflective stillness, its willingness to keep looking and looking beyond the point when most films would have cut, or even wrapped and gone home. And yet, for all its formal challenges, this simple story is also quite accessible, at least if the viewer makes the effort to approach it on its own terms. It is essentially an update of George Eliot’s sublime Silas Marner, in which a sorrowful and self-centered man is brought to life by losing himself in the service of a child. In calmly portraying the gradual cultivation of this relationship Wenders avoids the usual cute or curmudgeonly clichés so common in children’s movies. As in our actual grown-up/kid relationships, exasperation and affection are complicatedly intermingled, and a relationship is accomplished only through patient cultivation and gradual growth. If there are challenges in this approach, there are also great rewards. By avoiding the shorthand of sentimentality, Wenders eventually achieves real sentiment, and demonstrates a truth to which movies sometimes give lip service, but to which they rarely show sufficient commitment. The idea is that it takes time to come to know, and to love someone. In its patience with and affection for its characters, in its desire to actually have us spend that time, Wenders’ film teaches us that movies may require, and reward, the same effort. In the end this is that rare commodity: a film about love that is actually made with love. (Parents will want to screen it for themselves first; this uncondemning narrative glancingly but clearly hints at attitudes and lifestyles that will make some viewers uncomfortable.)

Dean Duncan

Title: Alice in the Cities (1974)
Country of Origin: West Germany
Running Time: 110 min
Language: German
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Sound Mix:
Color: B/W
Certification: Singapore: PG / UK: U / West Germany: 6
Releasing Company: Bauer International (1977, US, subtitled)
Producer: Peter Genée, Joachim von Mengershausen
Director: Wim Wenders
Writer: Veith von Fürstenberg, Wim Wenders
Cinematographer: Robby Müller
Editor: Peter Przygodda
Composer: Chuck Berry, The Can, Canned Heat
Genre: Drama