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Kings Of The Road

Kings Of The Road“The final part of the loose trilogy
  of Wim Wenders
road films
  following Alice In The Cities and
  Wrong Move
Kings Of The Road
  (Im Lauf der Leit) sees Bruno Winter
  with further frustrations — but will
  he ever write anything?


WHILE WORKING AS A CINEMA PROJECTOR ENGINEER, maintaining equipment at run-down small-town picture palaces around Germany, would-be writer Bruno Winter (Rüdiger Vogler) lives in his truck. But one morning, as he wakes up, a Volkswagen Beetle roars across his line of vision and into the river.

As the car rapidly sinks, the occupant, Robert Lander (Hanns Zischler), abandons everything he owns and swims to the shore where he walks up to Bruno, who nicknames him "Kamikaze".

In German with clear subtitles, Kings Of The Road is shot in black and white and, in true Wenders fashion, the film is an exploration of people's lives. Kings Of The Road is a compelling, fascinating and enjoyable slice of life in post-war Germany; a swansong for the golden days of cinema, crafted around Wim Wenders' masterful direction and visionary photography. The title refers to Bruno and Robert — who form a sometimes uneasy friendship and take off on the road together in Bruno's truck.

The film was shot in eleven weeks between July 1 and October 31, 1975, between Lüneburg and Hof, along the frontier with East Germany and the photography is superb, with pretty German towns and delightful old and unspoilt buildings. The film soundtrack is also excellent and incorporates selective recordings as Bruno plays singles on his in-truck deck, including the uplifting and positive Just Like Eddie, performed by Heinz.

Bruno is just drifting and is not obviously pursuing his dream of writing; he seems to have an acceptance of his situation — although there is an emphasis on pen and paper. Kings Of The Road opens with a relaxed Bruno at a cinema, talking to an elderly man who used to play music with his wife in the days of the Silents and who laments the disappearance of the small-town picture palaces.

It is Robert who appears to be searching for himself. He asks Bruno how he copes on his own after two years on the road. "I get by," says Bruno. But Robert cannot and continually tries to call his estranged wife. Bruno cannot understand why he left her if he needs to call, but he says: "I'm no longer myself when I'm with her."

During the course of their journey together, Bruno and Robert meet others whose lives are as much at odds with the modern world as their own. Both try to reconcile their past; but turn their anger on each other — almost as if they see their problems with life, women and relationships mirrored back at them.

In showing compassion for a man whose wife has just committed suicide by driving a car into a tree, there is a gentler side to both Bruno and Robert than their somewhat selfish attitudes would seem to show — but could there be an ulterior motive?

Robert goes to Ostheim to visit his father, with whom he has a difficult relationship, and Bruno meets a girl who tells him defensively that she lives alone and is staying that way.

The images in the film are beautifully visual, with children floating paper boats in a stream; a cinema full of schoolchildren entertained by Bruno and Robert with shadow figures; a poster with Robert Mitchum in a cowboy hat; a fairground; a motorbike ride to the Rhine with a great panoramic shot of the river and a train — trains figure strongly in the film; and at the border an abandoned cold concrete hut, covered with American graffiti, where the bleakness of the landscape seems to echo their mood. Robert says: "The Yanks have colonised our subconscious." There is a wonderful image of a train keeping station then crossing paths with Bruno's truck as he plays Roger Miller's King Of The Road.

The dialogue is well paced — when Robert sees a young boy writing in the sun and asks him what he's writing, his description is delightful. But he swaps the notebook for Robert's sunglasses and empty case.

Robert works in an area between linguistics and paediatrics. He evaluates research on the first months of learning to read and write. At that stage, he says, the letters and numbers are still an adventure. Later, when writing becomes a routine, this imaginative phase is forgotten. Only the impediments, he adds, sometimes occasioned by these fantasies, remain.

Robert talks of a recurring dream: "There used to be a saying that you could erase old writing and write something new at the same time. I kept thinking and writing down the same thing… Until I dreamed up the idea of changing the ink. With this new, dark ink there were suddenly new things I could think and see and write." And Bruno responds: "No… You're still in the dark."

And a cinema owner tells Bruno: "Film is the art of seeing." She doesn't want to show the films which are a mere exploitation of all that can be exploited in human heads and eyes… things that "kill any joy of life inside them and destroy any feeling for themselves and the world." Wonderful sentiments.

Hailed as one of the best films of the 1970s, Kings Of The Road also features Lisa Kreuzer, Rudolf Schündler, Marquand Bohm, Dieter Traier, Franziska Stömmer and Patrick Kreuzer. It remains Wenders' most remarkable portrait of his own country.

Kings Of The Road is a meditation on the passing of the age of great cinema, an acute study of life in post-war Germany. To this day, it remains one of Wim Wenders' most accomplished films.

The Winner of the International Critics' Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, Kings Of The Road (also known as In The Course Of Time) is out now for the first time on DVD in the UK as a two-disc collectors' edition (released 28 July, 2008) from Axion Films.

Certificate 18 (contains explicit male nudity) | Running time 169 minutes | German with optional English subtitles | RRP £19.99. Bonus features: 'Conversations on Kings Of The Road' featurette | Deleted scenes | Exclusive 20-page limited edition collectors' booklet.

"Marvellous… one of the great films about men… and about the effect of America in 'colonising' the European subconscious" — Geoff Andrew, Time Out

"Excellent" — The Guardian

"Every turn in the road brings something unforeseen and intriguing" — The Times

"Mesmerising" — The Sunday Times

"The first masterpiece of New German Cinema… engrossing" — Chicago Reader

"Exhilarating" — Nick Roddick, Sight & Sound

"Very rewarding… often imitated but rarely bettered" — Film Four

"Fascinating… compelling and witty" — New York Times

"Kings Of The Road is a compelling, fascinating and enjoyable slice of life in post-war Germany; a swansong for the golden days of cinema, crafted around Wim Wenders' masterful direction and visionary photography" — MotorBar