There have been many filmmakers who have surrendered an important part of their body of work to the search of the human soul. Tarkovsky tried or actually found it through a trip to the past, to the childhood of his characters. Ozu looked for it on the small details of everyday life, tradition, and family. Herzog has been travelling to the farthest corners of the earth trying to find it.
Wim Wenders has been looking for it through culture, music, and cinema. His search for human soul manifested early in his life; he took courses in medicine and philosophy on his natal post WWII Germany. He was born in 1945 in Dusseldorff, being his, a generation who lost its immediate past; he quickly found an identity on American culture, especially rock & roll. His body of work is a road trip to the west, in search for an identity and looking for the soul of Germany through its Americanization.
Studying his filmography means embarking on a voyage through his obsessions, music, film, and the heart of each city. Marginal, iconoclast, and decadently erotic, Wenders stands as one of the most praised filmmakers alive.
10. Kings Of The Road (1976)
A movie projector repairman and a suicidal travel along the Eastern and Western German frontier. The never-ending road helps them go through a voyage of identity and motivation, as a philosophical principle develops in the characters. It also becomes a study of women in their absence, American culture, and cinema.
A movie that is meant to feel like a long, long drive; there are no scenes that can be edited out, because Wenders wants us to feel the emptiness of the surroundings, and the emptiness within the characters. It’s also a farewell letter to cinema as we knew it back in the seventies. Our characters stop at old cinema theaters to fix old projectors, and realize that cinema is neither young or strong anymore, even though the road continues.
9. Until The End Of The World (1991)
Being this, a list of ESSENTIAL films, it doesn’t mean that all of them need to be good movies. Until the End of the World isn’t a bad movie either, it’s a conglomerate of all things Wim Wenders’ movies are.
Road movies, cultural identities being tested, great soundtrack, desolate deserts and the search of the human soul amidst, this time, destruction. In the year 2000 a satellite is threatening to end life on earth. This opens a Pandora’s box that includes politics and ecologic catastrophe. A woman is being followed by a mysterious man, who, in turn, ends up being followed by the woman.
The movie evolves as the mumbling of an artist that finds himself at the end of a creative era; a lot has been said, what else is worth saying? After this, the message became a bit unclear in Wenders body of work, with films like Million Dollar Hotel, The End Of Violence and Land of Plenty. This is his most ambitious project to date.
8. Nick’s Film: Lighting Over Water (1980)
Wenders gets to say goodbye to one of his heroes, Rebel Without A Cause director Nick Ray. A film of nostalgia, friendship, tribute, but, above all, death.
Ray was diagnosed with terminal cancer, but refused to spend his last days in a hospital, so he surrounded himself with close friends in his modest New York loft, where Wenders gets him on a last project that becomes a close collaboration on the face of death. The movie evolves from Nick’s imminent last hours, to Wenders facing the loss of his mentor.
7. Pina (2011)
“Dance, dance, otherwise we are lost”. Wenders pays tribute to Pina Bausch, to some the most important choreographer of the last 40 years. We watch her dance company perform some of her most famous dance sequences. Beautifully shot in 3-D, the film becomes an experience to the senses; the elements in Bausch’s choreographies, mixed with the unique approach a film camera can bring to the audience.
Wenders concerns seems to have outgrown the essence of music on his fictions and documentaries, and now he wants to go beyond that; what once was a rebellion, or even an identity, it now becomes a way to understand life, and understand feelings, while it serves as a medium to save an important art form that seems to fade away in a wide sea of commonplaces and mass culture. Maybe cinema will follow.
6. The American Friend (1977)
Dennis Hopper plays an American expatriate in Europe, who convinces a German picture framer with a fatal illness to commit murder. Again, an allegory of the relationship between Europe and America, the characters develop a relationship based first on fear, then envy, and finally friendship.
The movie speaks about the symbiotic, but troubled cultural relationship between America and Europe. Based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel Ripley’s Game, this serves as a perfect excuse to create an European thriller with American soul, cameos by Sam Fuller and Nick Ray included.