Wim Wenders (director)
AXI Films (studio)
24 September 2018 (released)
28 September 2018
Director Wim Wenders’ award-winning epic ‘road movie’ charters the friendship of two men who meet, well, on the road. Along the journey they encounter an array of people whose views clash with the modern world while at the same time their views also strike a chord with Bruno and Robert, the two men in question.
Shot in b/w and using only minimal dialogue, KINGS OF THE ROAD (1976) clearly influenced much later works such as director Jim Jarmusch’ PERMANENT VACATION (1980) or STRANGER THAN PARADISE (1984).
The original German title is IM LAUFE DER ZEIT, which translates as “As time goes on”… and with a running time of 175 minutes this is an apt title indeed, in fact one begins to feel part of the journey.
Starting with a prologue of sorts, the opening scene introduces us to the film’s anti-hero Bruno Winter (Rüdiger Vogler) – nicknamed ‘King of the Road’ as he travels across the German countryside with an old removal truck in order to repair old cinema projectors. To be more precise, travelling and living in the truck seems his entire lonely life. An old man (about as old as the projectors Bruno keeps repairing) ponders over the past glory of silent cinema – when films like Fritz Lang’s The Nibelungen guaranteed big business – and how the modernisation of film techniques put an end to this golden era. Nowadays, the old man laments, cinemas up and down the country have either completely vanished or are reduced to screening garbage and exploitation flicks. Such ‘trash’ is bad business especially for local cinemas in small places (director Wenders clearly made a statement here about the state of affairs concerning 1970’s cinema in Germany).
Back on the road, Bruno witnesses a Volkswagen Beetle plummeting into the river Elbe. Its driver is Robert Lander (Hanns Zischler) who just attempted suicide… Back in Genoa, Robert and his wife separated and now he feels he can’t go on. However, the sinking car and Robert’s last minute change of heart – he climbs out of the car together with an empty suitcase – amuses Bruno no end. He offers Robert a lift and nicknames him ‘Kamikaze’. With nowhere to go and nothing to do Robert becomes an unlikely travel companion and the two men slowly begin to bond without revealing too much about their lives, at least not yet. Along their journey they encounter various people and situations, for example when Bruno is booked to get a projector rolling for a group of school kids a technical glitch causes everyone to wait, including the impatient teacher. Bruno and Robert stage an impromptu ‘shadow play’ behind the screen to entertain the kids while things are being fixed, it is an unexpectedly funny scene.
As time goes on, and for our two protagonists time most certainly does go on rolling along the roads singing along to American hits including Roger Miller’s ‘King of the Road’, they gradually open up about their innermost thoughts, dreams and disillusionments. It’s precisely this openness, which now almost puts a rift between the men. At a fun fair, Bruno makes the acquaintance of Pauline (Lisa Kreuzer), a young single mother working at the local cinema. Clearly smitten, Bruno turns up at the cinema that same evening only to realise the movie shown is a cheap sex film and also out of focus. Pauline informs him that she only works here to help her Gran, even the projectionist only works here without knowing what he’s actually doing. Bruno decides to take matters in his own hands and walks into the projection room to confront the projectionist about his sloppy attitude. Upon entering, Bruno realises that the guy is too busy wanking off and thus oblivious that the projection is out of focus. Bruno then spends the night with Pauline who makes it clear she wishes to remain a single mother while Bruno confesses that he always felt misunderstood and lonely even when with a woman. This feeling of isolation and not being understood by prospective partners - or society as a whole - is a recurring theme throughout the film. Only when Bruno decides to visit the place of his childhood does he conclude that his past is also his story. Meanwhile, Robert – a children’s educator of sorts but also a trained printer – tries to reconcile with his estranged father but to no avail. Therefore he makes use of the old printing machine and prints a Special Edition newspaper containing a speech addressed to his dad.
After some more days together on the road, Bruno and Robert are finally parting ways as they have come to realise that the time has arrived when they must carry on alone.
Where there is a prologue there must be an epilogue: Bruno chats with an elderly lady, the owner of a cinema, who laments about the decline of standards and concludes with the sentence, “No longer having a cinema is better than having a cinema… considering the way things are nowadays!”
KINGS OF THE ROAD is offered in a brand new 4K restoration with some bonus material. In case you wonder about the film’s 18 Cert, well… when was the last time, if ever, you saw someone taking a dump onscreen? And the scenes in the Blue Movie theatre aren’t exactly subtle either.