Paris, Texas ★★★★★

Paris, Texas opens with Travis Henderson emerging from the desert with no knowledge of himself. Reunited with his brother Walt after four years, he begins to piece his life together and learns his son, whom he also hasn't seen for four years, is living with Walt and his wife Anne. Travis re-enters his son Hunter's life and re-establishes himself as the boy's father, then one day they embark for Texas to search for Hunter's mother, Jane, who left him in the care of Travis's brother.

Widely considered to be the magnum opus of German director Wim Wenders, Paris, Texas shows us an America very much from a foreigner's perspective. While there's no real essence of Americana we would expect from a director native to the states, the landscape it depicts is somehow still one we would all like to visit. Through Wim Wenders' eyes, America is a country of vast emptiness and mystery extending even to the cities, a country which is connected up by a collection of vast, tranquil roads heading to nowhere. The exposed allure of the scenery reflects the inability of the characters to hide their emotions or motives indefinitely, ordaining the looming confrontation at the film's climax right from its opening shot.

With German director Wenders at the helm, Paris, Texas feels like a fusion of European arthouse and New Hollywood insights, bringing foreign intrigue to bear on a story and characters that feel intrinsically American. There's something of this fusion in just the people who worked on it: Dutchman Robby Müller's simplistic yet exquisitely poised camerawork gives the film its sense of echoing melancholy which critic Roger Ebert rightly observed made it evocative of late-60s cornerstones like Midnight Cowboy, while Californian rock guitarist Ry Cooder's haunting music heightens this atmosphere considerably and is used to particularly wrenching effect in the scene towards the end where everything comes to light - one of a pair scenes in this film which I consider among the best I have ever seen in any film. Thus, the cross-cultural collaboration of the enterprise is what gives it its unique flavour.

The introspective screenplay, a collaboration between Sam Shepard and L. M. Kit Carson, sheds a great deal of light on the inner thoughts and feelings of sadness, loss and dread with which the characters are flooded. But mostly the profound resonance of the film is due to the one-of-a-kind performances, all of which use naturalism to create a maximum-voltage emotional impact. Harry Dean Stanton plays Travis in a knockout turn which concealss a heavy sense of regret, conflict and silent desperation under a somewhat baffled demeanour; Hunter Carson is more than a match for him, playing the precocious child to end all precocious children. Dean Stockwell and Aurore Clément provide solid, essential support, but perhaps best of all is Nastassja Kinski, who gets inside her character to let slip years' worth of repressed pain, running away with the whole film in doing so.

Paris, Texas is a film that struck a chord with me through the restrained, subtle yet fearless way it deals with themes of loneliness, familial love and the importance of making sacrifices. Transitioning from a slightly cutesy story of male bonding to an agonising, incisive and stark two-hander somewhere in its second half, this is an overpowering tour-de-force and as clear a reason as any why Wim Wenders is hailed as one of Europe's greatest ever filmmakers.

[Edited 17/5/2019]

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