Wednesday, May 30, 2018

A Love Letter to American Cinema

The American Friend (1977) - Wenders
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Unlike a lil sociopath playing elaborate games in Patricia Highsmith's novels, in Wenders's hands, Ripley is a quiet enabler, trying to stir shit up from a distance because someone stiffed him. But he is no less psychologically complex here. With all his American director heroes making a cameo - Nicolas Ray and Sam Fuller, admired for their hard hitting noirs and under-appreciation stateside, I'm sure, The American Friend is Wenders's thinly veiled love letter to American cinema.

Jonathan Zimmermann (Bruno Ganz) is a soft spoken, picture framer/art restorer leading quiet life in Hamburg with his wife and son. He has a rare blood disease that he regularly visits his doctor for. He invites the ire of Ripley (Dennis Hopper), a cowboy hat wearing American con-man, when he disses him (wouldn't shake his hand) at an art auction where Ripley is selling one of the counterfeit paintings (painted by Nick Ray in Manhattan studio). In revenge, Ripley and a French gangster Minot (Gérard Blain) starts a rumor that Zimmermann's health is serious and don't have long to live.

Freaked out by his health concerns, he reluctantly accepts Minot's proposal - killing a couple of no good gangsters from New York for large sum of money for his soon to be widowed wife and fatherless son. The following Paris underground subway assassination sequence is thrilling to watch.

The killing takes a toll on mild mannered Zimmermann, physically and emotionally and when he's forced to do it again, this time in a moving train in Munich, Ripley, who's been mumbling, questioning himself who he really is, decides to help Zimmermann to be his friends.

The plot line makes little sense but it's Robbie Müller's cinematography that really shines here. It's all about mood and atmosphere - Zimmermann's childlike red and white stripe scarf pops, red Voxwagon Beatle glows, dingy green flourecent lights adds character indoors, and soft crushed blacks and oranges are all gorgeous. With Fuller and Ray playing dangerous seedy characters, you can easily guess the romantic notion of gangsterism and its thrill equal American movies in the mind of impressionable German director. Ripley in a cowboy hat is the instigator who plants the seeds in an unsuspecting German man, but he himself can't avoid jumping in the action because it's so fun in the end.

I do not have a reference point here since I have not seen Wenders's 70s movies before they were restored. But along with Wrong Move, The American Friend is one of the most beautiful color film I've seen. It's like William Eggleston photographs reversal, saturatated Kodachrome photos. Bright, warm and gentle. I don't know if those were enhanced since it was shown in theaters in film print. But it's up there with A Woman is a Woman in terms of beauty.

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