A loose contemporary adaptation of Goethe's Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, the middle installment of Wim Wenders' "road movie trilogy" opens with a scene that's pure Wenders -- a young man gazes out his window while American rock rollicks out of the LP player, until he suddenly puts both fists through the glass, quietly sobbing. That's Wilhelm (Rudiger Vogler), who grudgingly accepts that, if he's ever to become the writer he wants to be, he has to overcome his dislike for people and venture out to accumulate experiences. In place of inspiration, the journey hooks him up with a group of fellow loners, the "dead souls of Germany": an apathetic actress (Hanna Schygulla), an aged ex-Nazi whose nose bleeds from "remembering" (Hans Christian Blech), his mute street-performer travelling companion (a teenage, almost tomboyish Nastassja Kinski), a pudgy poet (Peter Kern), and a suicidally bereft industrialist (Ivan Desny). The movie's West Germany aches from an inability to deal with the past (with a nation's own wrong moves), and Wenders and screenwriter Peter Handke temper the malaise by giving their Wilhelm the slightest hint of enlightenment. Studding the quintessentially German original with his love for American pop (the dilapidated mansion where the gang camps out is a shout out to Rebel Without a Cause, by Wenders idol Nicholas Ray), the filmmaker stages the narrative's progression as a series of clarifications visualized -- extraordinarily expressed in Robby Müller's lengthy tracking shots, as in a walk up a mountain road shifts from poetics to concentration camp memories. If lacking the behavioral felicities of Alice in the Cities and the visual epiphanies of Kings of the Road, the film nevertheless shares their sense of discovery and need to connect and, ultimately, to feel.
--- Fernando F. Croce