Paris, Texas deservedly wins CannesParis, Texas, directed by Wim Wenders, at Harvard Square and Copley Place.
Paris, Texas, winner of the Golden Palm at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival, is a psychological drama. When the relationship between a middle-aged man and a much younger woman collapses, they entrust their infant son to the care of the man's brother and sister-in-law. Contact is lost.
In the movie, we follow the man in his quest for reunion. The film begins at the moment he pops out of the blue somewhere in the Texan desert.
The psychological implications of this scheme are well-developed in the course of the movie. The puzzling disorientation which the man exhibits at the onset is gradually explained and transformed into a nervous determination to find his wife and son.
When he tries to recover his son, his brother and sister-in-law are faced with the realienation of their adopted child. The boy is forced to choose between two fathers. The woman (played by Nastassja Kinski) remains a mystery until the end, when we finally discover her actual situation and feelings.
As the movie approaches its climax, all lines seem to converge toward a resolution of conflicts. But, at the last moment, Wenders opts for an open horizon. I found it hard to accommodate this within the logic of the storyline, in particular of its second half. Perhaps Wenders judged a completely happy ending simply too straightforward. But it doesn't detract from the main line; it even produces a formal symmetry: by leaving again at the end, our hero retraces his initial steps.
With a plot like this, a film could easily turn into a tear-jerker or a game of chess staged with human figures. This movie is neither. It maintains the particular tension which alone can prevent it from slipping into the sentimental or the sterile.
This is due to the judicious balance between what is clearly stated and what is left implicit (again with the possible exception of the very last part). Of equal importance is the movie's subtle rhythm, stressed by occasional guitar music (Ry Cooder). It corresponds to a gentle, yet determined pace.
The whole unfolds in a continuous sequence of outstanding shots. In a symbolic interplay between actors and surroundings, the background of the scenes reflects their emotional content, whether it be the vast, vague space of rural Texas or the restless confinement of a Californian suburb haunted by the noise of a nearby airport.
The film has a distinctively international flavor, although it is set in Texas and California with a predominantly American cast. A German-French co-production, it hints at its origins in the figures of the French sister-in-law, and a Texas country doctor whose accent is reminiscent of the Rhine rather than the Rio Grande. Most importantly, the director, Wim Wenders, a protagonist of contemporary German cinema, pervades the movie with his own personal style.
Paris, Texas is the best new film I have seen in a long time; and those who wouldn't agree with me in this respect might still judge it well worth its time and price.
The Goethe Institute (170 Beacon Street, Boston) currently shows Wenders movies on Friday nights. Look in newspapers for information on the schedule.