By Philip Newton (England)
Paris, Texas is a truly stunning piece of work from German director Wim Wenders whom I was not familiar with before watching this film, however was impressed with the tone and feel of the film and personal connection he creates with his environment. From the beautifully framed cinematography, to intimate scenes with its characters and the sparse but powerfully real dialogue, Paris, Texas is a subtle but intense story of loss, redemption, and the importance of family.
We begin the film with a lone figure stranded in the desert, he has no water and stumbles upon a bar where he collapses. He is found by a German doctor whom is unsure what to do as the man will not speak or tell him anything about who he is or where he comes from. He finds a card in the wanderers pocket, it has a number on it and he decides to ring. He gets in a touch with a man named Walt (Dean Stockwell) who claims that the wanderer is his brother Travis (Harry Dean Stanton) whom disappeared four years ago and he will come and get him. When he arrives the doctor states Travis has left, Walt manages to find Travis somewhere in the desert and tries to convince him to come home, especially to see his son Hunter (Hunter Carson) whom Walt and his wife Anne (Aurore Clement) have been looking after since he left. At first Travis is reticent and will not even speak, however he eventually opens up and returns to his brother’s home to see his son. At first his son is unsure but soon grows fond of Travis, Travis however is consumed by feelings for his wife and Hunter’s mother, who he left years before and decides that finding her and re-establishing the family unit is the only way of finding peace with himself.
Wim Wenders is apparently in love with American movies and life and is truly evident here; Paris, Texas is truly epic in scope with huge expansive shots of American highways and deserts. The cinematography from Robby Muller is mesmerizing and pulls you into its majesty. This is displayed beautifully with the film’s opening shot of the desert landscape with a small solitary figure walking, which is Travis and is both spectacular but also has a haunting quality to it. This is helped by the poignant score by Ry Cooder whose music in these scenes reflects perfectly the idea of being isolated and uncertain in such vast terrain.
Paris, Texas also works well because it makes us get close with its characters, allowing us to feel what they feel and enjoy those tender moments of joy and sadness which are universal with us all. Wenders employs lots of close up shots, which often pause on the characters faces for extended periods of time, we as an audience become intimate with their emotions and perhaps can understand some of the choices they make.
Sam Shepard’s screenplay also helps intimate scenes with dialogue that is subtle and understated, words are not written purely to manipulate us in a cynical fashion.
Another part of the film I admired was its moral ambiguity, and I will not go into this too much as it will spoil what happens in the film, but there were various points where I questioned the choices which Travis made in the film and whether I thought they were right? This affected what I thought of the character, however, upon reflection I realised that’s the film’s genius. People do not make choices based on what I think is right at the time and a lesser film could have perhaps appeased my need to feel satisfied with all the characters decisions and actions. This film is above that, it is special and the fact that it allowed me to reflect on Travis and his actions; perhaps changing my mind is a testament to Wenders and his vision.
It is also a testament to the performance of Harry Dean Stanton who is on fine form here, perhaps the finest I have ever seen him on screen. He plays an ordinary man with great weight and guilt, and as the story unfolds we begin to understand the patterns of behaviour to where at the end he is pouring his guts out. Stanton from the initial scenes in silence to his heart wrenching final words is totally convincing and forever memorable.
The reasons for the title Paris, Texas relates to the location where Travis’s father met his mother, it is also a spot of land he has bought there where he hopes to go in the future. We never physically see Paris, Texas, it is merely used as a reminder of Travis and his often uncomfortable past, but also of his hopeful future, truly must see cinema.