Monday, February 1, 2016

Paris, Texas


It had been some time since a film left me speechless and stunned.  Rarely happens.  Something so deep and beautiful.  IQIRU, THE LAST PICTURE SHOW,  HOTEL ROWANDA, MAGNOLIA: these are a few that have really taken my breath away.  Films with unexplainable power.   I had never seen Wim Wenders' PARIS, TEXAS, other than a moment or two back when it was featured on HBO in the '80s.  In those days, it would've been too slow and introspective for me.  I hadn't lived enough life back then, anyway, even if I could've related to some of the familial issues and feelings of solitude expressed in Wenders' film.

Seen now, PARIS, TEXAS is a crusher.  A masterpiece of mood and emotion.  Striking Ry Cooder score. Astonishing use of color.  The bright reds and greens almost make the Texas and California landscapes appear Expressionistic, though the hard outline reality of dusty roads and parking lots is always apparent.  The story begins in the big empty of the desert. A drifting man wanders into a bar and passes out after shoving a handful of ice in his mouth.  After a doctor identifies him and calls his brother Walt (Dean Stockwell) - a billboard designer who lives in Los Angeles - we begin to slowly learn about this man.  A beaten soul named Travis (Harry Dean Stanton) who remains mute even after his brother comes to retrieve him.  After an attempted escape, and much prodding by Walt,  Travis eventually begins to speak, desiring to visit Paris.  The one in Texas.

Travis doesn't remember much of what happened during the four years he was missing. A wife and child were left behind.  Hunter, now eight years old, lives with Walt and his wife Anne (Aurore Clement) in L.A.  Travis' wife Jane (Nastassja Kinski) is still in Texas, whereabouts unknown.  Paris, Texas is where he thought he would settle with his family someday.

Travis returns to California with his brother. Things are awkward.   Father and son are strangers, curiosities to each other.  When home movies are shown, Travis' memory reignites, his heart suddenly burdened.  Hunter does not respond to Travis warmly at first.  A relationship is not rebuilt overnight, especially one that may never have existed with any depth.   As time goes on, Anne reveals that every month Jane deposits money into an account for her son.  A bank in Houston.

I can tell you more, of the eventual reunions.  The heartbreak of those left behind.  At one point or another in PARIS, TEXAS each character will know that particular sting.  The unimaginable weight of abandonment. The feelings as hollow and lost as the American West on display so vividly through Robby Mueller's lens.  The story arrives at a conclusion seen in countless dramas, but this one is so perfect in its understatement, yet so emotionally devastating.

Every moment of Wenders' film is mesmerizing.  From the opening shots of a man in the desert to the final moments of a man in a different, though perhaps similar place.  PARIS, TEXAS may play more effectively for viewers who understand the sort of defeat and loneliness Travis experiences.  Others will hiss at his final decision, fail to understand it.  For me, it was all right there in the lengthy scene between estranged husband and wife through the glass.  A perfectly thought out and realized conceit that does not feel contrived or pretentious.  I don't want to ruin it for you, invisible audience.  But see the film and tell me it is not a perfect method through which a man who feels like a ghost, a wraith might decide to communicate his feelings. It is one of my favorite scenes in cinema history, and absolutely one of the most heartbreaking.

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