A happy belated birthday post for Mr. Wim Wenders. Wrong Move is one of Wenders’ first features, and the earliest of his that I’ve seen aside from Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick. While that film (from 1972) is based off of a Peter Handke novel, Wrong Move‘s source material is Goethe, with Handke providing the script.
Maybe Wenders’ The American Friend (1977) marks a transitional period for the director. After completing that excellent adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith novel (and with an underrated Dennis Hopper performance) he’d go on to tackle the Hammett (in a famously troubled production) and eventually work his way to his better known films, Paris, Texas and Wings of Desire (1984 and 1987).
If that’s the case, then Wrong Move first firmly into Wenders’ first period, marked by loner male characters, despondently or aimlessly roaming cities and countrysides meeting a cast of characters. These films seemed surrounded by alienation and small moments of violence (or potential violence) for reasons that aren’t always outwardly stated.
Wrong Move is also marked by long takes with a moving camera, splashes of color, and a character who, despite his voiceover, doesn’t give us much to work with in terms of motivation. Here’s one of the earliest moments of the film. Wenders starts on this wide-shot through a window and suddenly – surprisingly – a hand comes into frame and smashes the glass:
Wenders cuts down below to a red-clad woman (is that Hanna Schygulla who will appear later?) and the blind man she leads before cutting back up to Wilhelm (Rudiger Vogler):
It’s an odd intro the character, but it sets the stage for what’s to come in many ways. Firstly, Wilhelm’s actions seem based more on pent up energy and an unawareness of what to do with it than anything else. Secondly, this is Wilhelm’s first interaction with random passers-by, a feature that marks the rest of the film. Thirdly, with the red jacket and car in the background, there’s a sense of pop-art and bold color schemes amidst an otherwise drab canvas.
Wrong Move is Natassja Kinski’s first film. Here she is in an awesome sweater, opposite Laertes (Hans Christian Blech) – the first people that Wilhelm will pick up along his travels:
As the film progresses, Wilhelm gathers a small following, which is odd given that he doesn’t seem to inspire any concrete reason for it. He wants to be a writer, but doesn’t do much writing in the film. He’s quiet, and sometimes extremely stand-off-ish. Yet, still, Mignon (Kinski), Laertes, Therese (Schygulla, who you might recognize from several Fassbinder films), and a wanna-be poet Bernhard (Peter Kern) all follow him everywhere. Wenders shoots these sequences – that’s Bernhard way in the background of this first shot – in a series of tracking shots as the group moves through back alleys watching the odd assortment of characters in the neighborhood:
Later, Wenders shoots several conversations along a road in only a few, long, tracking shots. These scenes – as Wilhelm talks individually with various members of his “followers” – take up a good 8 minutes and we watch, in real time, as they move further and further along a lengthy, winding road:
The color scheme of a Wenders’ film frequently seems somewhat kitschy to me, and here’s a good example of that. Wenders seems to love these TVs that are on but only showing static. The gray/blue cast of those couples with green and red tones:
All of these costuming and production design decisions seem very at odds with the grey-green world that the travelers pass through.