Kings of the Road (in the course of time) (Wenders, 1976)


 Wim Wenders’ Kings of the Road is a sprawling and hypnotic road film concerned with past trauma’s, friendship, and temporality in general, all framed within a national context in 1970’s Germany. Bruno Winter (Rudiger Vogler), a projectionist and mechanic, travels across West Germany in his large beat up van visiting small villages and repairing their downtrodden cinemas. He meets Robert Lander (Hanns Zischler), a sorrowful young doctor who has just left his wife. Through a mutual appreciation for movement, they decide to travel together, Robert accompanying Bruno on his winding schedule of stops. Wenders isn’t concerned with the regular tropes of a buddy movie. At first, Bruno and Robert often prefer silence over dialogue, relishing in the opportunity to just exist without the cliched pleasantries of a first impression. How different this feels to me, seeing two characters enjoy the silence of the road, share a moment of laughter over common experiences, getting to know each other slowly and with a sense of context. Bruno and Robert’s similarities aren’t immediately apparent, giving the viewer a sense of change once their friendship and respect for each other begins to take shape.In Kings of the Road, Wenders favors emotion, mood, and atmosphere over an overseeing narrative. But the film’s structure remains extremely focused and strong throughout, only adding layers to these two men’s past relationships with family, women, and their occupations. With each shared experience, the men grow fonder of each other in a way outside the realm of sex or chauvinism. It’s as if Bruno and Robert, longing to address hidden weaknesses, have never been able to find someone who wants to listen and understand. When, in the middle of the film, the two men briefly separate, Robert visits his father for the first time in eight years. The scene is stunning, bringing up countless past moments of anger, disappointment, and shared angst. Later, after the two men have reconnected, they visit Bruno’s childhood home, a solitary house on an island in the middle of the Rhine. Bruno, as with Robert, begins to see a history of events which make up his own life, a first time visualization of a lineage he can understand.Wenders, if anything, is a filmmaker obsessed with lines, roads, tracks, any sort of manmade path which beautifully acts as a parallel for an inner movement toward redemption or understanding. Kings of the Road may be his best incarnation of these motifs, pitting his characters against a wide open landscape of trees, watch towers, highways, and rivers. Bruno and Robert could act as stand ins for an entire nation looking to forget past traumas so great only the “art of seeing” can attempt to clarify the national ramifications and fallout. To me, it’s even more rewarding to see these two men in a personal light, sharing a sporadic, but needed timeline of freedom, fully understanding they’re better off having known and appreciated each other.

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