Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas is one of those films that seems to be everywhere when you get into film circles. It was something referenced by lecturers, or featuring in people’s favourites lists, and it quickly became one of those films I’d pretend to have seen. Murmuring agreements about it’s cinematography or it’s profoundness, I quickly tried to avoid admitting to the fact that I’d not seen is as I didn’t feel “legitimate” as a film student. But that was four years ago and now I don’t care, and also now I’ve actually seen it.
A man who has been wandering in the American desert for four years is found roaming the empty roads in the back end of nowhere, mute and dust-covered with a haunted sadness in his eyes. Travis (Harry Dean Stanton) used to have a perfect family, and an idyllic life but an unknown and unspoken event in the past shattered this illusion of normality.
Rescued by his brother Walt (Dean Stockwell), Travis moves in to his house in LA and tries to reconnect with his son (Hunter Carlson), while also attempting to untangle the mystery of what happened to his wife (Nastassja Kinski).
There’s no doubt that Paris, Texas is a beautiful work of art. Neon-lit petrol stations sent against dark desert skies litter the endless highways contrast with the muted normality of an LA suburb. Robby Müller’s cinematography deserves all the praise it rightly received, as a stunning example of the possibilities of filming, lighting and technical skill.
Despite this, Wenders’ Palme d’Or winning film, regarding as a highlight in his significant body of work left me cold. Beyond the gorgeous visuals and haunting, simple score it felt like there was nothing substantial underneath. Stanton’s Travis is a character defined by his mysticism, yet when the final reveal is uncovered and the long awaited conversation between husband and wife takes place, there is nothing there that makes you mourn or emphasise with him.
To put it simply, the confrontation scene feels anti-climatic. You find yourself neither affected or bothered during the concluding final moments, it happens as if from a distance, through double-glazed windows where you can make out the expressions but have no connection to the emotion.
Stanton is a consummate performer, and his ability to convey so much through silent gestured and large eyes that cry out with sadness is a masterclass in an acting. It just seems a shame that his character is left to flounder in the final act of the film, with nothing of note to do.
A visually-breathtaking film with very little else to say. It’s an exclaimed film that simply did not live up to those expectations.