Kings of the Road (1976)

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Wim Wenders directs Rudiger Vogler, Hanns Zischler and Lisa Kreuzer in this West German road movie about an itinerant, hipster truck driver who picks up a lost man and warms to the idea of company. 

I came to Wim Wenders arse backwards. In my youth his contemporary releases were pretentious gubbins like Million Dollar Hotel and his accessible classics like Paris, Texas and Wings of Desire were a bit too mature and ponderous for a teen to appreciate. I reckon I would have dismissed Kings of the Road too, if I had sat through its three hours of nothing in my callow, restless years. Nowadays I can see the wizardry in spinning a plate for a feature length, especially when the pole the trick is performed with lacks the strength of story and the flexibility of resolution. To enrapture the viewer through mere mood, emotion and character is a dazzling skill. To let us get driven through a country with no map, no destination and no familiar signpost is to gift us with a freedom rarely experienced in cinema. If anything Kings of the Road most resembles Richard Linklater’s best works like Dazed and Confused or Boyhood where we watch the coming and goings of a group of characters with only their pleasures and boredoms dictating the unforced, unremarked upon growth we witness. Only Wenders does not fall back on the distractions of busyness and over population. In this time capsule of two men drifting across 1976, we explore their faltering friendship. One is taking an unplanned time-out from city life after a break-up. The other has chosen a mobile hermitage. Driving his truck of cinema parts through out the small, dying cinema circuit of small town West Germany. At first our driver, Bruno (a charming Rudiger Volger) seems like the more relaxed and happy of the two. He has chosen his life of isolation and separation. Yet having the continued companionship of another through his days of shitting in fields and shaving in a wing mirror puts him off. He passive aggressively bristles at the idea of continued friendship. His new friend (Hans Zischler as the scruffily urbane Robert), sensing his intrusion (they after all share the undivided cab of a truck as a living space), makes excuses to break away and rejoin en-route. Self consciously giving his loner benefactor reprieves so their freindship can continue. He loves having the countryside and the lay-by as his holding pattern but seems to know it is an interlude rather than a way of life. He warms to but never embraces the driver’s isolation.  And all this is communicated pretty much wordlessly.  There are stirring vignettes… the boys find themselves in proximity to a crash, an awayday from the truck on a motorbike and sidecar, an unfulfilled overnight seduction of cinema usherette Lisa Kreuzer and a hall of children are entertained as the repairmen become shadow clowns for them. Robby Müller’s gorgeous monochrome cinematography hunts for the starkest road side scrubland and the most tellingly populated crossing points. And lastly, Wenders’ best film is a love letter to cinemas themselves. The few times the boys stopover in civilisation with others, they are delivering or repairing ageing projectors. Talking to the owners about a world under threat. Less people are coming, the movies have changed, they no longer speak to the common man rather than tell him what to think. Kings of the Road feels like the accidental antidote to the very symptoms it highlights. A celluloid love letter to unspectacular interaction and the beauty in the everyday. Its aimlessness gets you in right in the feels,  promises you an envious way of life you never knew you wanted.

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