Alice in the Cities (1974) Review

From an original post April 22 2015

4 mins

Phil Winter (Rüdiger Vogler) is a writer in a rut. He can’t think. The noise from his TV set seems to block out any creative thinking. He continues to aimlessly wander around North Carolina looking for inspiration. Unable to write he instead takes instant Polaroid’s of what he sees, musing that the instant images never capture (or corroborate) with the impressions seen through his own eyes.

"Wenders’ employs a very effective “turn up and shoot” style to the picture that is refreshing and very realistic"

He then decides to return to his homeland of West Germany, but he doesn’t have a plan what to do when he gets there. Phil Winter seems to be in a creative limbo where every building, gas station, sidewalk billboard could just be that inspiration for his next writing piece, but isn’t.

In New York airport, bound for Amsterdam, Phil meets Lisa (Lisa Kreuzer) and her nine year daughter Alice (Yella Rottländer ). Alice is a well travelled little girl who is modern, savvy but very demanding. Winter agrees to escort Alice to Amsterdam while her mother addresses some relationship issues, with a view to meeting in Amsterdam the next day.

When Alice’s mother doesn’t arrive, Winter and Alice embark on a road trip through Germany to find Alice’s grandmother.

Alice in the cities is a road movie but its protagonist’s path to creative salvation is subtle and delicate. It’s a movie that grows as you watch it. Initially is rather sterile and dry. The copy of the movie we had at our screening was relatively grainy and (I suspect intentionally)slightly over exposed.

However after a period I didn’t notice these issues or even the 4:3 aspect ratio black bars. Alice in the cities draws you in. Not because it is fast paced (because it isn’t) or because the characterisations are so well formed (because they aren’t), Alice in the Cities attracts the voyeur in you. As I was watching, I was intrigued what would happen. Would it work out? Would Alice find her grandmother?

But in my view the strength of the movie is what’s happening outside the window. Much of the shooting is in the first person (Alice’s) perspective. The little Blond boy riding his bike, post war industrialisation scars on the landscape, grimy cafe’s and cheap hotel stopovers.

Interestingly the plot never becomes heavy or sombre. The drone musical score lightens as Winter finds he is able to write again. Wenders’ employs a very effective “turn up and shoot” style to the picture that is refreshing and very realistic. Sometimes the style feels more like a 70’s news report which adds to the intimate small box, small story the picture is trying to portray.

The New York Times said that it is "a film with a great deal to say about Europe and America, about the exhaustion of dreams and the homogenization of nations, about roots and the awareness of time, about sterility and creativity, about vicarious and real adventure and, eventually, about the possibilities of the future”

However it is a very human film and regardless of its strong intentions, its development of the bond between Alice and Winter that carries the viewer along and not the social political commentary.

BFC Screening: 22/04/2015 - Alice in the Cities directed by Wim Wenders

Last updated on: 25 Feb 2017 09:54 AM

Wim Wenders 1974 Yella Rottlander Rudier Vogler