Alice in the Cities

Alice in the Cities ★★★★½

"In this city, you lose all sense of time."

Much like Kevin Smith used the studio-financed Mallrats as a de facto casting call for his next indie, Chasing Amy, Wim Wenders regrouped following the frustrating production of The Scarlet Letter by building a smaller-scale film around two of its actors. Conceived as a starring vehicle for Yella Rottländer, who had played Hester Prynne's daughter, and Rüdiger Vogler, who had a small role as a sailor, Alice in the Cities opens with Vogler's Phil Winter on a road to nowhere, having completely lost his bearings. A journalist on special assignment in America, he's spent four weeks traveling across the country, taking volumes of Polaroids and failing to write the magazine article he's supposed to turn in at the end of his trip. ("When you drive around America, something happens to you," he says to his frustrated editor.) Upon his arrival in New York City, he sells his car so he can buy a plane ticket home and unwittingly becomes responsible for nine-year-old Alice (Rottländer) when her mother leaves her in his care despite the fact that they've only just met the day before. This doesn't become fully apparent, though, until they land in Amsterdam and she doesn't follow the next day. Can you blame Phil for feeling he's been put on the spot?

To Phil's credit, he sticks it out with Alice a lot longer than many people in his situation would. Despite being flat broke, he offers to take her to her grandmother's -- if only she could remember what city her grandmother lives in. When that doesn't pan out he leaves her with the police (represented by The Merchant of Four Seasons's Hans Hirschmüller) and goes to a Chuck Berry concert, but Alice turns up like a bad penny with better -- if still somewhat vague -- information, and they're off to the races again, with Can on the soundtrack and Robby Müller's evocative cinematography to accompany them. And having found his métier, Wenders would send Vogler back on the road the following year in Wrong Move.