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The American Friend

The American FriendWim Wenders quirky thriller,
  The American Friend, is a story full
  of sinister characters and strange
  images about a dying man
s desire
  to make sure his family is well
  provided for — whatever the cost

HAVING BEEN TOLD THAT HE IS SERIOUSLY ILL with a terminal blood disease, Jonathan Zimmerman (the exceptional Bruno Ganz), who is a professional framer and restorer of fine paintings, is desperate to ensure that his wife Marianne (Lisa Kreuzer) and son Daniel (charming played by Andreas Dedecke) will be well provided for after he dies.

In Wim Wenders' The American Friend (Der Amerikanische Freund), temptation comes his way in the shape of the creepy Tom Ripley (Dennis Hopper getting brilliantly into character) — the 'American Friend' of the film title — who is embroiled in a scam involving forged paintings and has links to other, more deadly, organised crime.

Involved in the scam with Ripley is Allan Winter (David Blue) — with whom Zimmerman is familiar — and artist Derwatt (Nicholas Ray); but the framer finds himself 'framed' into working as a hit-man when Ripley introduces him to the sinister Raoul Minot (Gérard Blaim), who arranges hit-men for a mobster and has been asked to take out a rival.

What seems to be a way to provide for his family after his death turns out to be more difficult than Zimmerman had imagined, and he finds himself walking a dangerous path from which there is no return. He is also becoming more and more estranged from his wife as he has to hide the truth of his visit to Paris in the guise of a trip to a specialist.

Following Zimmerman's bungled assassination in the Paris Metro, Ripley pulls him in; but is later at odds with himself as he tries to justify his motives for involving Zimmerman.

Dennis Hopper appears out of place in 1970's Hamburg — an American cowboy, complete with Stetson. Although he has "associates" he is something of a loner and is quietly menacing — perhaps believing that all you have to do is speak softly and carry a big stick (a gun). He is consumed with existential angst; a strange character perhaps rather out of tune with life. He records his apparently confused thoughts onto tape, telling himself he has "nothing to fear but fear itself". I know, he says, "less and less about who I am and who anybody else is."

Hopper is, as usual, a joy to watch; but this characterisation may not sit so well with purist fans of Patricia Highsmith, whose novel Ripley's Game provided the basis for the screenplay written by the author with Wim Wenders — his forte is with tormented souls drifting (sometimes aimlessly) through life with a seemingly-endless supply of motley characters presenting themselves at various stages.

Superbly shot by Robbie Müller, Wim Wenders draws on his love of American cinema and pays homage to the B-movie and film noir traditions with The American Friend. The result is one of his finest films. Although the characters in the film all interact well on-screen, the chemistry between Hopper and Ganz was apparently explosive and filming The American Friend was not without its problems because of this. Hopper hid personal problems while shooting and Ganz was as meticulous about his art as Zimmerman was about his.

Dedicated to Henri Langlois (a pioneer of film preservation and restoration. One of the co-founders — with Georges Franju and Jean Mitry — of the Cinémathèque Française), The American Friend is a well-paced thriller with a few twists — another immaculately-presented film from director Wim Wenders that takes you beyond the realms of probabilities. The casual attitude of the lead characters and the lure of the solution to Zimmerman's worry for his family all bond together to produce a sometimes troubling, always thought-provoking European film noir.

The American Friend was the official selection, in competition, at Cannes Film Festival 1977. It won the Best Direction & Editing at the German Film Awards 1978 and was one of the New York Times 1,000 best movies every made. The film also features Samuel Fuller as The American Mobster; Rudolf Schündler as Gantner; Lou Castel as Rodolphe; Heinze Joachim Klein as Dr Gabriel; and Stefan Lennert as The Auctioneer. Wim Wenders makes an appearance — or rather doesn't! — as a figure wrapped in bandages in an ambulance. The darkly film noir music is by Jurgen Knieper; the Director of Photography is Robby Müller; Edited by Peter Przygodda; Art Direction is by Heidi Lüdi and Toni Lüdi.

The American Friend is out now on DVD, courtesy of Axiom Films (released 14 July, 2008).

Certificate 15 | RRP: £15.99 | Running Time: 121 minutes | Catalogue No: AXM573 | Language: German with English subtitles where necessary | Region 2.

Bonus Features: Feature length commentary with Wim Wenders and Dennis Hopper; Deleted Scenes (with optional commentary); Trailer.

"Elaborate and Brilliant" — The Sunday Telegraph

"Outstanding… exceedingly good… Ganz gives a wholly remarkable performance… a thriller and a half" — The Guardian

"A really extraordinary performance by Ganz… stunning" — The Sunday Times

"4 Stars" — BBC

"Visually rich… hypnotic" — Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

"Fascinating… extremely powerful… perfect Hitchcockian set pieces… Bruno Ganz is excellent (4 STARS)" — EMPIRE

"Superb" — Time Out

"The American Friend is a well-paced thriller with a few twists — another immaculately-presented film from director Wim Wenders that takes you beyond the realms of probabilities" — MotorBar