Alice in den Städten (1974)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Road Movie  |   Release Date - May 17, 1974 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 110 min.  |   Countries - West Germany  |  
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Released the year after Paper Moon, another movie about an adult male and a young girl taking to the road, Wim Wenders' film is also in black-and-white, but there the similarities to Peter Bogdanovich's comic tale of con artists end. Wenders' central figure, writer Phillip Winter, is shown in the opening scenes blowing off an assignment to write his impressions of America for a German-language publication, and, instead, begins taking dozens of Polaroid photos as evidence of where he's been. In short, he's the typical disaffected protagonist from Wenders' early work. What shakes him out of his lethargy is having to take responsibility for another lost soul, a nine-year-old girl whose mother temporarily abandons her in Phillip's care. Although he's not cruel or dismissive to her, he keeps trying to limit his help to Alice to the bare minimum, while she keeps him at arm's length even as she begins to understand how dependent she is on him. The film suggests ways that American pop culture have infected contemporary Europe, but it's most affecting as an investigation of identity. The musical cues -- a Dutch boy singing along tonelessly to a jukebox playing Canned Heat's "On the Road Again," Chuck Berry in concert singing "Memphis Tennessee" -- are a bit too obvious as commentary, but when Alice stubbornly can't remember where her grandmother lives or even her name, and Phillip refuses to share with her any details about his life, there's a powerful suggestion that we are watching two people making new lives for themselves. Phillip's decision to return to his own family, clearly done with some reluctance, isn't only about his running out of money; he seems to want some verification of who he is, as well as provide Alice with more support than he can give.