Saturday, March 15, 2014

628. Der amerikanische Freund/The American Friend (1977)

Running Time: 127 minutes
Directed By: Wim Wenders
Written By: Wim Wenders, from the novel Ripley's Game by Patricia Highsmith
Main Cast: Dennis Hopper, Bruno Ganz, Lisa Kreuzer, Gerard Blain, Nicholas Ray
Click here to view the trailer


I technically could have called this "Fuller Week: Part One", as I'm set to begin reviewing the Samuel Fuller movies next up and he was actually in this one. If his choice of roles is any indication of his own directing style, then I look forward to the Fuller films.

Love the use of the color green in this scene, making Hopper's Tom Ripley seem all the more mad when he's snapping Polaroids of himself. What was that all about anyway?

The film is an adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith novel, "Ripley's Game", which was even more recently adapted into an American film starring John Malkovich and in the 90s starring Matt Damon. Some would have you believe that the plot revolves around Tom Ripley, but I'd prefer to revolve my own synopsis around the character of Jonathan Zimmermann (Ganz), a picture framer who is suffering from a rare blood disease. When Zimmermann meets Tom Ripley (Hopper) for the first time, he gives him the cold shoulder and later, someone informs Ripley that Zimmermann IS dying. When Ripley is asked to commit a murder by French gangster Minot (Blain), he turns down the job, but recommends Jonathan. A few days later, Ripley goes into Zimmermann's shop and asks for a picture to be framed and the two men apologize for their cold meeting. After that, Minot contacts Zimmermann and tells him that he knows he is dying and that if he'd like to make some extra cash before his death, he'll pay him 250,000 marks to assassinate the man Minot wanted Ripley to kill. At first, Zimmermann refuses, stating that he, in fact, isn't dying and that his last test came up negative and that he isn't a murderer. However, he begins to doubt his own doctor's diagnosis and when Minot offers to get him a second opinion in Paris (where the hit would take place), Zimmermann accepts the job. That's enough to get you started, I think...

This is an actual image from the film and a perfect example of that "otherworldly" quality I was talking about. Notice Wenders use of red and how maybe it symbolizes the blood that has been spilled by Zimmermann.
There was a shot of Zimmermann in a hotel hallway that I wanted but couldn't find anywhere online, so I settled for him running in a street tunnel. Like I said though, every shot seems to be so well thought out.

Boy, whether you like the plot of this one or not, it really doesn't matter as the camerawork and atmosphere give the viewer plenty to sink their teeth into. I, for one, enjoyed the plot as well, but it took some warming up for me to really get into it. In fact, until I read the Wikipedia entry for this film, I really didn't 100% get it. I, at first, didn't realize that Minot first approached Ripley to do the hit and only when Ripley refused did he approach Zimmermann. I kept wondering throughout the film why Ripley was even involved in this. I guess you could still ask that question though - why did Ripley get involved? Only because he felt responsible for getting Zimmermann involved in the first place? I'd say that makes sense enough to just go with it. I think the plot is followable enough and I think the real star here, like I said is Wenders' direction, Robby Muller's cinematography and the overall atmosphere of the whole picture. I have to say I'm becoming more and more entranced by German cinema, as there always seems to be something deeper going on in that country's films and they're almost always beautiful. I'll be tackling the films of R.W. Fassbinder later this season and really can't wait to do so.

Shot near the end. The character in the background is Ripley. Another shot that is seemingly flawless. 

Anyway, this was an easy thumbs up for me. Man, I really need to give "Wings of Desire" a second chance, because I remember it disappointing me so much, but "The American Friend" and "Paris, Texas" have both more than made up for that one and it makes me want to see the rest of Wenders' work. My hopes for this one may have been a little too high and some early confusion (my fault) may lead to a slightly lower rating, but all in all, I'd highly recommend this movie, as all the pieces of a great motion picture are in the work, which also include an eerie, yet powerful score and rich colors which make the film, at times, feel otherworldly. If I had to nitpick, I think Wenders could've done a better job of making the bullet points a little clearer. Like I said, it took me a while to realize what the hell Hopper's character was even doing. Maybe that's my own fault, but I kind of want to give blame to the movie, because I feel like I was paying close enough attention that I should've caught onto Ripley's motivations. I don't know - I get it now and I guess that's all that matters. This is a tough one to get a hold of (I don't think Netflix offers it - at least they didn't used to), but if you can track it down, it will be worth the hunt. Even if you hate the plot, this is one you could put on mute and just let the images and colors wash over you, as almost every shot is freeze frame worthy.

RATING: 8/10  Can't go all the way, because this isn't even the best thing I've seen this season ("The Conversation", "The French Connection", "The Night of the Hunter"), but it's still damn good and highly recommended.


March 15, 2014  6:25pm


  1. OK.. after an accidental detour to 'Paris Texas' (due to a miss-aimed click)..
    After a few agreement that were possibly a little luke warm.. and a decided disagreement this morning.. A full scale wholehearted agreement on this one.
    Good, maybe very good.. but not quite 100%.
    You know, it's easier to write something when you disagree.. I'm really struggling to find something to add to what you said...

    1. Honestly, we're doing good on the whole agreement/disagreement thing. A few disputes, but all in a friendly way.


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